A bill outlawing the use of Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols and slogans passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset Wednesday, despite coming under fire by opposition MKs and the attorney general.
The bill, which would also ban any illegitimate use of the word “Nazi,” passed the Knesset 44-17. It must now go to committee before being voted on for passage into law.
In a letter to MKs, reported by Haaretz earlier in the day, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein registered his objections to the bill, saying it could restrict free speech.
“There is no dispute that the use of Nazi symbols and epithets in public is offensive and outrageous,” Weinstein wrote. “However, not all behavior that offends the public is deserving of being criminalized.
“Is it worth it for a democratic country to forbid an entire world of images in public debate? Given the importance and centrality of the right to freedom of expression, any restrictions on it should be examined very carefully.”
MKs also said the law would have unintended consequences.
“According to this law Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz would be sitting in prison. Don’t you have enough laws?” Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich argued.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) criticized the undefined scope of the law.
“This law is formulated negligently,” he said. “According to the text, even somebody who calls Hitler a Nazi is breaking the law. Whoever makes a film about the Holocaust will go to prison. They are proposing here to send the prime minister to prison for comparing [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to Hitler.”
Weinstein wrote that the existing laws relating to Nazi symbols and slogans are sufficient and that the best way to deal with the issue going forward is through education, not more legislation. He also took issue with the wording of the proposed law.
“The definition of the terms “Nazi symbol” and “Nazi name-calling” are vague and subject to interpretation,” he added. “This ambiguity could have a chilling effect and preclude phrases that were not intended to be forbidden.”
In response to the criticism, Likud MK Shimon Ohayon, who sponsored the bill, reiterated his argument that Israel risks hypocrisy if its laws relating to Nazi symbols are not as strict as those in European countries
“If we don’t restrict ourselves, then how can we restrict others that do not know how to make the distinction and compare you to Nazis,” he said in a radio interview on 103FM.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill on Sunday, which indicates it has the backing of the coalition. If passed into law, it would prohibit the word “Nazi” in contexts other than “for the purpose of learning, documentation, scientific study or historical accounts.”
Using words that sound like “Nazi” to indirectly refer to someone as such would also be subject to penalization.
“Insulting someone by expressing the wish, hope, or anticipation for the fulfillment of the Nazis’ aims, or expressing sorrow or protest that they were not accomplished — [is] forbidden,” the bill reads.
The proposed legislation would also prohibit wearing the kind of gold six-pointed star required of Jews by the Nazis, as well as striped suits similar to those worn in the Nazi concentration camps, and would ban the swastika and other Nazi-related symbols.