The Knesset passed a law outlawing racist incitement. Hard on the heels of this legislation, and not unconnected to it politically, the Knesset also passed into law a bill forbidding meetings with terror organizations.
On both measures the government coalition achieved a solid majority — since Labor and Likud had reached agreement beforehand. But on both measures there was some Labor defection, and both were hotly opposed by the left-of-center opposition in the Knesset.
The new legislation was voted into law during a drawn-out nocturnal session that began Tuesday afternoon and ended close to dawn on Wednesday.
HEAVY BURDEN OF PROOF
The racism bill bans publication of racially inciteful material. The bill places on the prosecution a heavy burden of proving intent to commit incitement by the publication.
This proviso was inserted into the bill during more than a year of controversies in the Knesset Law Committee. In the eyes of many leftist Knesset Members, the proviso effectively empties the new measure of its content and renders it toothless.
Victor Shemtov, Mapam MK, delivered a scathing attack on the bill close to midnight, pointing out that the man against whom it is principally intended, Kach MK Meir Kahane, had announced that he intended supporting it.
KAHANE VOTES FOR THE MEASURE
And, sure enough, in the vote Kahane joined with Labor, Likud, National Religious Party, and Shinui members in voting for the bill.
Clearly, his purpose was to embarrass the government and to build up a favorable voting record so that when his party’s credentials are challenged in court before the next election — as they almost certainly will be under legislation passed earlier this year banning racist parties from running — he will be able to point to his vote in favor of the law against racism.
The vote tally was 56 for, 22 against and seven abstentions. The latter comprised members of the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and Aguda Israel, and the rightist Tehiya party.
Labor and Likud whips had sought throughout the day to modify the bill’s wording so as to assuage concerns in the religious camp that purely religious or ritual actions could be prosecuted as racist or discriminatory.
A SPECIAL PROVISION
The bill in its final form contains a special provision excluding the citation of Biblical or other sacred passages from ever being considered racist.
On the bill, the religious vote was split: NRP in favor, Shas and Aguda abstaining and the lone Morasha MK, Avrahm Verdiger, voting against the bill. Also voting against, along with the leftist parties, were Labor’s Abdel Wahab Darousha and Shinui’s Mordechai Wirshubsky.
The anti-PLO bill, passed by a narrower majority, forbids private Israeli citizens from meeting with members of a terrorist organization abroad (the PLO qualifies under the law’s definition). Exceptions are press conferences, international symposia, and family ties.
Throughout the months of debate on both of these controversial measures, it had been clear to Labor and Likud leaders that the chances of passing the one hinged on the passage of the other, since in the Likud they were seen as somehow balancing each other.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.