A bill that would make featuring the Israeli flag mandatory at public events passed a first reading in the Knesset plenum early Tuesday, drawing the ire of opposition members who decried it as an “attempt to educate the Arab community.”
The legislation, sponsored by firebrand Likud MK Oren Hazan, requires that the flag be shown at any public event attended by the prime minister, the president, a minister or a Knesset member. Failure to comply would be punishable by a fine of NIS 14,400 (approximately $4,200).
Twenty-five lawmakers supported the bill and 11 opposed it. It still has to be discussed by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and then pass two more plenum votes to become law.
Hazan presented the bill following an incident in 2015 when the Israeli flag was removed from a conference in New York organized by the Haaretz newspaper. President Reuven Rivlin, who was among the participants, asked the organizers to put the flag on the table during his speech. But afterward, the flag was removed at the insistence of PLO official Saeb Erekat, who said he wouldn’t speak with the flag on stage, sparking outrage in Israel.
“The bill’s goal is to prevent a situation in which an official representative of the state participates in an event without the Israeli flag being shown,” Hazan said, describing the bill as one of several designed to be an “education series.”
“This is our way of thanking the state,” he added. “The flag offends nobody and it is time for us to respect it.”
Opposition members objected to the bill and to its designation as “educational.”
“Anyone who tries to educate the Arab community is disrespecting himself,” said MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union). “The law is unnecessary.”
MK Yousef Jabareen of the mostly Arab Joint List faction said that “in a democracy, state symbols and the flag should represent all citizens. When the symbols were approved, it was known that 20 percent of citizens would be unable to identify with them.”
“When there is a population that feels alienation toward its citizenship and symbols that don’t represent them due to the government’s treatment, part of the rights of every citizen is to voice their opinion of those symbols,” said another Joint List member, Aida Touma-Sliman.
Hazan, the author of the bill, has gained a reputation as a troublemaker since entering the Knesset in 2015 and has drawn the ire of Palestinians for several of his antics.
Last month, Hazan led a small group of protesters in blocking buses carrying Palestinians from Gaza on their way to visit their relatives in an Israeli prison, during which he referred to the inmates’ relatives as the “families of these animals” and said the prisoners deserved to be “underground.”
Hazan was given extra security following the incident after a spokesperson for the Hamas terror group’s military wing lashed out at him.
In October, Hazan appeared to call for the assassination of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a Facebook post in which he suggested the Palestinian leader was on his way to meeting the same fate as a number of figures from his Fatah party who were killed by Israel.
Hazan has also squared off with Arab Israeli lawmakers, most recently calling Joint (Arab) List MKs “terrorists” last week after they brandished signs during US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”