TEL AVIV (Dec. 17)
Two bills backed by Israel’s religious parties were adopted by the Knesset on Monday, following angry debates over whether they constituted religious coercion.
One was presented as an anti-pornography measure. The other, which passed its third and final reading by a vote of 50-44, with one abstention, allows local authorities to decide whether or not restaurants and places of entertainment can stay open Friday nights and Saturdays.
That bill is sponsored by the National Religious Party, whose Knesset faction chairman, Yair Levy, insisted it is not coercive.
“The law only gives the local authorities the right to see what the public wants and decide accordingly,” he said.
Uriel Lynn of the Labor Party, who chairs the Knesset Law Committee, which sent the bill to the floor, agreed it is innocuous. He said the legislation deals with the “more or less accepted norms of the Israeli society.”
But Mordechai Virshubsky of the Citizens Rights Movement warned his colleagues that it is a divisive measure that will “turn out the lights in all of Israel’s cities on Shabbat.”
He said the secular majority bears responsibility for passing a law that reverts to “the Middle Ages” and will cause “hatred between brothers.”
The anti-pornography bill is part of a package of restrictive legislation demanded by the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party as its price for joining the Likud-led government on Nov. 18.
Other measures yet to be acted upon include a total ban on public transportation on the Sabbath and additional restrictions on abortion.
Secular Knesset members have vowed to fight these laws, which they say are religious blackmail.
The measure voted on Monday is a modified version of the original Agudah draft, which passed its first reading last month. Its purpose was to ban advertising the Orthodox consider lewd–a woman in tight jeans, for example.
But even the version that emerged from committee defines pornography in the broadest terms. The bill as it now stands forbids the public display of any ads that would offend the sensibilities of the religious community.