JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli draft law that would criminalize the use of the word Nazi in most cases has sparked a debate on freedom of speech in a state that was founded out of the ashes of the Holocaust.
Seven decades later, memories of the extermination of millions of Jews during World War II permeate virtually every aspect of life in Israel. Public figures and interest groups frequently invoke the World War II genocide to score political points, and the word and Nazi symbols have slipped into Israeli discourse over the years.
The bill would impose a fine of 100,000 shekels (nearly $29,000) and six months in jail for anybody using the word or symbols from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in a “wrong or inappropriate way.” Educational settings would be exempt, as would certain artistic performances, said Shimon Ohayon, the bill’s sponsor.
The Knesset gave preliminary approval to the measure on Wednesday, but it still must pass three more readings and committee discussions before becoming law. A similar effort in 2012 fell in committee amid opposition.
Ohayon, from the hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party, said the law would put Israel on par with other nations “battling anti-Semitism.” He acknowledged enforcement would largely rely on violations being reported to police.
“We want to prevent disrespect of the Holocaust,” said Ohayon, the bill’s sponsor. “We allow too many freedoms which are taking over in a way that is harming us.”
Opponents say the measure endangers freedom of speech in a country that takes pride in being a democracy in a volatile region dominated by monarchies and authoritarian leaders.
“Week after week you want to shut mouths and harm freedom of expression,” said Zehava Galon, leader of the opposition Meretz party.