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Coalition MKs granted free vote on banning Palestinian flag at state institutions

Bill sponsored by Likud MK is up for a vote on Wednesday, following controversy over display of Palestinian banner at Ben Gurion University

Israeli and pro-Palestinian students stage protests at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on May 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Israeli and pro-Palestinian students stage protests at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on May 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Ministers decided on Sunday that lawmakers will be able to vote their conscience on a controversial bill that would outlaw the display of enemy flags — including the Palestinian flag — at universities or government institutions.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided to grant coalition lawmakers freedom to vote as they choose when the bill comes up for a reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. Generally, coalition MKs are expected to maintain discipline in votes.

According to MK Eli Cohen of the opposition Likud party, who sponsored the bill, “The hypocrisy and the incitement from some Arab Israelis must stop. They want to enjoy the budget of the State of Israel and at the same time defy the State of Israel and harm its sovereignty.”

Added Cohen, “Anyone, by the way, who sees themselves as Palestinian, will get any help they need from us for a one-way trip to Gaza.”

According to leaks from the ministers’ meeting during the debate over the bill, Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) clashed with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), after the latter declared that flag-waving did not disturb anyone.

“It deeply disturbs students and bereaved families whose families were murdered, plus the Palestinian Authority continues to pay those murderers a huge salary,” Elkin noted.

Although Palestinian flags have sometimes been prohibited or confiscated by police, they are not illegal. The legislative push, which comes amid heightened tensions ahead of Sunday’s nationalist Flag March for Jerusalem Day, follows criticism of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after Palestinian flags were displayed during a recent rally at the school in Beersheba.

MK Eli Cohen speaks to a reporter at a special meeting at the Jerusalem Municipality, May 29, 2022. (Screengrab/Twitter)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said the flags were flown “in the heart of Beersheba” due to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s “government of fraud and weakness.”

Responding to the criticism, the university noted in a statement that that the events showed that students from all segments of Israeli society at the campus were able to “hold a variety of opinions and views.”

Universities will not be the only institutions affected by the bill, which would target any state-funded institution, such as cultural institutions, that chooses to display the flag.

The government has in the past targeted institutions that receive state funding for what it perceives to be disloyalty to the state.

In 2018, a bill spearheaded by then-culture minister Miri Regev would have allowed the culture minister to pull funding from state-funded institutions that feature events that reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or are seen to be supporting terrorist groups and enemies of the country. The bill was put on hold as the government at the time could not muster the votes to pass it.

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