Knesset advances controversial anti-terror bill
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Knesset advances controversial anti-terror bill

Draft law goes to committee before final approval; critics describe legislation increasing punishment for terrorism as ‘totalitarian’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the Knesset on September 2, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the Knesset on September 2, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset advanced late Wednesday night a controversial bill that significantly broadens the definition of terrorism and toughens punishment for many offenses deemed terror-related.

The parliament voted 45 in favor and 14 against the legislation on its first reading.

The bill widens the definition of terrorist acts and organizations and lengthens punishments for terror-related offenses, including providing for equal punishment for perpetrators of terrorist attacks and their abettors.

The bill now heads to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee where it could face amendment. It must then be approved twice more by the Knesset plenary in order to become law.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-on said during the Knesset debate that “we need to eliminate the factory creating motivation for terrorism, which is the occupation,” Haaretz reported.

Opposition leaders have criticized aspects of the bill and said they were not given sufficient time to review its details, as they only received a copy of the 104-page legislation on Monday.

The government’s National Security Council decided to push the law in the Knesset in light of a recent firebombing attack in the West Bank town of Duma, allegedly committed by Jewish extremists, in which a Palestinian baby and his father were killed.

The bill includes threats of terrorist activity in its definition of terrorism, and does not differentiate between acts committed against civilians or soldiers.

Senior lawmakers from the opposition Zionist Union party had said most of the party would support the bill, according to Haaretz.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni speaks to press in the Knesset on July 29, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni speaks to press in the Knesset on July 29, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“How could we explain to the public that we voted against a comprehensive, updated bill whose purpose is fighting terror?” asked one unnamed Zionist Union Knesset member on Tuesday.

He added that Tzipi Livni, second in the leadership of the Zionist Union, had backed the bill in the previous Knesset.

The anonymous lawmaker added that while he objected to parts of the bill, he supported its passing a first reading, saying that it could later be modified in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Livni said the bill provided “a full an comprehensive response to combat terrorism,” adding that passing it was “the right and duty of a democracy to its citizens.”

According to the new bill, the punishment for threatening to perform a terrorist act would be equal to that for performing such an act. The bill also doubles maximum punishment for terror-related activities, to up to 30 years in prison.

The legislation states that anyone who expresses solidarity with a terrorist group will face up to three years’ incarceration. That includes organizations that support but do not commit acts of terror and Palestinian charities affiliated with Hamas.

Anyone over the age of 12 can be prosecuted for terrorist involvement, and a wide range of activities — including wearing a shirt with a terror organization’s name on it — constitute such involvement.

The bill establishes the use of anti-terror tools in non-emergency situations, including allowing the Shin Bet security services to use computer services to monitor those suspected of involvement in terror activities, with the approval of the prime minister.

Since the bill’s inception five years ago, it has been debated by previous Knessets, although it was stalled for a time by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. It subsumes all previous anti-terror laws and would replace legislation from the British Mandate-era, before the State of Israel was established.

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