Wickedness and Stupidity

The proposal to ban commemorating the Palestinian Nakba will only encourage extremism in the Arab public and weaken the groups seeking integration into Israeli society.

There is no doubt that the radical elements among Israeli Arabs will secretly welcome the bills imposing a prison sentence on anyone commemorating the Palestinian Nakba and prohibiting debate on the Jewish character of the State of Israel. Clearly such steps - which turn part of the public discourse into a criminal offense - would only encourage extremism in the Arab public and weaken the groups seeking integration into Israeli society.

It is especially astonishing that MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu was the one to propose the Nakba ban. As a native of Moscow who immigrated to Israel in 1992 at the age of 15, perhaps he does not remember the struggle to leave the Soviet Union and realize one's national identity in Israel. But he grew up in a family that came from the Soviet Union, and a considerable part of his party's members and voters experienced the Soviet attempts to suppress expressions of national identity with so-called administrative measures. Miller should know that such measures not only fail to achieve their goal but do the opposite - they enhance what they want to eliminate and crush.

Undoubtedly, the attitude of some Israeli Arab leaders and elected officials toward what they call the Nakba is infuriating. First, because its message implies a challenge to Israel's legitimacy. Second, because of their lack of any self-criticism toward the fact that the Arab community in pre-state Israel chose to respond to the Partition Plan with armed struggle. This reveals the moral obtuseness of those who present the Arab public as a pawn in the hands of external forces and argue that it was not an active partner to what took place in 1948.

Indeed, it is hard to admit responsibility for failure in war, and one of the failures of the Palestinian leaders of the time, headed by the grand mufti, was their shirking of moral responsibility for the results of the war that their choice caused. The Israeli Arab leaders who continue their denial today are making a grave political and moral error.

But all this does not justify the draft law and does not detract from its wickedness and stupidity. I do not believe this proposal is likely to be passed in the Knesset, but if it is passed it is clear it would not stop Israeli Arabs from commemorating their failure and disaster in 1948. The law will turn an act of political protest - annoying as it is - into an act of crime. May 15 would become even more central in affecting the self-identity of Israel's Arabs.

Orlev's bill, which if passed would set limits to the permitted criticism of Israel's character as a Jewish state, also indicates a basic misunderstanding of the essence of public discourse in democratic society. These attempts to criminalize the collective consciousness are shameful, and are already leading to increased radicalization and social fermentation.

These complex questions should certainly be confronted. But this should be done through public discourse and open debate, as customary in democratic society. It should be done by investing in education in both the Jewish and Arab communities and by making a serious effort to increase the integration of Israeli Arabs into the country's economy, workforce and Israeli society in general.

The attempt to use "administrative measures" from the Soviet arsenal failed there - and is doomed to fail here too.