By Haaretz Editorial
The Knesset yesterday put Israeli democracy to shame when it passed the “Nakba Law” at first reading with a majority of 15 against eight. If the law is passed at second and third readings it will be able to deprive bodies of state support and fine them if they mark Independence Day as a day of mourning, or if they hold memorial events for the Palestinians’ “catastrophe” in 1948.
The proposal adopted at the end of the Knesset’s winter session was “moderate” compared to the original one initiated by MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu. It stipulates fining public institutions that hold activity “denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” and activity supporting armed struggle or terror against the state, inciting to racism or degrading the state’s flag or symbol.
The bill is not aimed at punishing individuals and threatening them with imprisonment, as the original version was. But the amended version, despite its euphemistic wording, cannot hide the cabinet’s intention – excluding Arab citizens and infringing disproportionately on their freedom of expression and their right to tell their own historic narrative.
Avigdor Lieberman’s party, which ran a blatant election campaign against Israeli Arabs, has scored a victory on its way to implementing its racist slogan of “no loyalty – no citizenship.”
The idea that it is possible to blur the Arab community’s past consciousness with laws and threats of fines is stupid. The “Nakba” wasn’t forgotten in the 62 years since Israel’s establishment, and the term is much more familiar and prevalent among Israelis today than in previous generations.
The Palestinian refugees’ flight, the destruction of hundreds of Arab villages and the erection of Jewish towns and settlements in their stead are part of Israeli history. It cannot be made to disappear, as the majority’s narrative cannot be foisted onto a fifth of Israel’s citizens.
The threat of depriving institutions that mark the “Nakba” of state financing is reminiscent of Culture Minister Limor Livnat’s complaints against the co-director of the movie “Ajami,” Scandar Copti, who said he does not represent Israel.
Like the “Nakba Law” initiators, Livnat too believes that an artist who receives state support is bound to “loyalty” and must represent the state in competitions abroad. This is the Netanyahu-Lieberman cabinet’s spirit – we’ll support only those who think like us.
Integrating Arab citizens into Israeli society is first and foremost a national interest, and its implementation requires that the Jewish majority display tolerance and openness toward the minority. Clearly the conflict makes this difficult and the Jewish-Arab rift will not disappear soon. But proposals like the “Nakba Law,” beyond violating basic democratic values, will only push the Arab community to greater extremism and separatism.
The Knesset should be ashamed of passing the law at first reading. The Kadima and Labor factions should be denounced for not opposing it. But it’s not too late to block the harmful law in the next readings, before it stains Israel’s body of law.