Far-right bills against ‘enemy’ flags, ‘racist sexual harassment’ given initial okay

MKs pass in preliminary vote legislation that doubles punishment for sexual harassment if committed for racist motives, and a bill banning display of flags of hostile entities

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Limor Son Har Melech attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Limor Son Har Melech attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday approved in preliminary reading a bill that doubles the punishment for offenders convicted of sexual harassment for racist reasons.

The bill was sponsored by two lawmakers from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, Limor Son Har-Melech and Yitzhak Kroizer, who tied the legislation to what they claim is a recent trend of intensified “nationalistic terrorism” via sexual harassment.

“Every day there are reports of women being sexually harassed on the basis of their religious identity,” the explanatory notes to the bill read. “The intensification of the phenomenon has reached the point that in various regions of the country, in the north, in the south, and even in the city of Tel Aviv, women are afraid to go out for sports activities or to go out alone in the evening.”

They noted that under the penal code, a person “who commits a crime out of a motive of racism or of hostility toward the public because of religion or belonging to a religious group is liable to get double the punishment.”

The law does not explicitly pertain to sexual harassment, they said, and “the purpose of this bill is to correct this situation.”

The bill also proposes that courts be able to award double compensation to victims of such crimes — up to NIS 240,000 ($66,000) — even without proof of damage.

It passed with 44 votes in favor and eight against. The bill will now go to Knesset committees for further review.

In another preliminary reading, the Knesset approved a bill sponsored by fellow Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen that makes it illegal to wave the flag of an entity that is hostile to Israel.

Explanatory notes say it seeks to establish “reciprocity” by banning the flags of entities that likewise prohibit the Israeli national banner.

Protesters wave Hamas flags after Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 22, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The aim of the bill appears to be to make it illegal for Israelis to wave Palestinian flags. The legislation would apparently enable police to take a more forceful and immediate action against demonstrations in the Arab community where such banners are often displayed.

Also, the flags of countries officially at war with Israel — such as Syria — have been displayed by peace activists at events.

While acknowledging the right to protest, the bill “draws a red line between a legitimate protest and a protest during which the flags of those who do not recognize the State of Israel are raised, those who are not friendly to it or those who do not allow the State of Israel to raise its flag.”

It proposes making the display of such flags a criminal offense, punishable by a year’s imprisonment.

The bill passed with 54 votes in favor and 16 against. It will be forwarded to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

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