On March 22nd, the Knesset voted 37-25 in favour of the so-called ‘Nakba-Law’, or Amendment 39, a bill which has been in the works since 2009. Initiated by MK Alex Miller of the far-right political party, Yisrael Beiteinu, the law calls for—amongst other things—the reduction of state funding to groups that participate in activities that contradict the character of the state as ‘Jewish and democratic’ or that grieve Israel’s Independence day.
According to experts, the law is undeniably vague in its wording, thus leaving it open to abuse. Sawsan Zaher of Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, believes the bill threatens a broad swath of government-funded institutions. Organizations at risk include research institutions that are found to be challenging the definition of the Israeli state as Jewish and democratic; educational institutions, such as bilingual schools, which hold events acknowledging the shared history of Jews and Arabs; and state-funded community organizations, such as theatres showing plays about the Nakba.
One cannot escape the fact that the law clearly targets freedom of expression, a basic human right and an essential requirement for a meaningful democracy. ‘You are sanctioned because of your political thoughts,’ Zaher says. ‘You can have your money so long as your political attitude aligns with the ideology of the right-wing government.’
With this in consideration, one is led to understand the intention of the bill to curb dissident voices within Israeli society.
The decision to sanction those who are involved in acknowledging the Nakba because it undermines Israel’s Independence Day is a clear indicator of the extent to which Palestinians living within Israel are afforded second class citizenship. For Zaher, this unequal treatment of Israel’s citizens can be seen in plain sight, ‘It would be seen as completely unacceptable to deny Jews the right to acknowledge the trauma of the holocaust, now they are trying to deny the trauma of the Palestinian people.’
The law states that it is the Minister for Finance who will be authorized to decrease the budget for those who are found to be involved in activities that are seen as a violation of its terms. For many like Zaher, this bill further affirms Israel’s undemocratic character. Zaher highlights the fact that ‘it is a legal matter and so should be the responsibility of the judicial authorities. This is a breach of constitutional rights and an infringement on the separation of powers.’
In Zaher’s view, this law is but one element of an ongoing policy of discrimination aimed at the Palestinian minority being carried out by the Israeli government. ‘It is an undemocratic law which is part of a chain of racist legislation that serves to target the Palestinian minority and decrease their rights she asserts. ‘The Palestinian citizens of Israel are viewed by the state as the enemy, no democratic state views its own citizens this way,’ she continues. This is given weight if one looks at the stream of racist and discriminatory legislation which has been set forth by Netanyahu’s government since its coming to power.
For the right-wing coalition currently in power, the Palestinian minority and its contesting narrative serves as a substantial thorn in the side of their political agenda, the aim of which is to bolster the Jewish character of the Israeli state. The ‘Nakba law’ is therefore another crude attempt to further this objective. Zaher contends that this stifling of freedom of expression for only one sector of society is not the action of a democratic government. ‘Discriminatory policies are one thing but when you have discriminatory laws, this is apartheid.’