In reaction to a public protest by members of the Ultra Orthodox community against the Israeli government, the nation’s cabinet has given its support for a new Knesset bill that would criminalize the use of the term “Nazi” or “similar-sounding words” during public protests on any topic, threatening a six month prison term and $26,000 in fines for any such offense.
The Ultra Orthodox protesters were condemning efforts by the secular community to prevent discrimination against women among the more religious Israelis, saying criticism of their efforts at gender segregation would make Hitler proud and accusing the secular Israelis of a “spiritual Holocaust.”
In addition to the word ban, the bill would criminalize the use of yellow stars of David during protests as well as all “photographs, drawings, sculptures and the like depicting a swastika.”
The effort was condemned by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, saying it was dangerous to attempt to regulate public debate, and that freedom of expression needed to include the right to say “hurtful things.”
MPs who supported the bill defended the efforts to restrict speech, saying that the word “Nazi” and any references to the Holocaust are a special case not covered by traditional freedom of expression.