Tuesday 21 October 2014

Bid to ban 'Nazi' word in Israel

Published 17/01/2014 | 13:47

Orthodox Jewish children, wearing a Star of David patch and uniform similar to those the Nazis forced Jews to wear, attend a rally in Jerusalem (AP)

An Israeli draft law that would make the use of the word Nazi illegal in most cases has sparked a debate on freedom of speech in a state that was founded out of the ashes of the Holocaust.

Memories of the extermination of six millions Jews during the Second World War permeate virtually every aspect of life in Israel. Public figures and interest groups frequently invoke the 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 (£17,000) 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 but it still must pass three more readings and committee discussions before becoming law. A similar effort in 2012 fell in committee amid opposition.

Mr Ohayon, from the hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party, said the law would put Israel on par with other nations "battling anti-Semitism." "We want to prevent disrespect of the Holocaust," he said. "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.

Preserving the memory of the Holocaust has become a central tenet of Israeli identity. Students learn about the event from a young age and thousands of high school pupils make an annual pilgrimage to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps in Europe to forge a personal link to the murder of millions of Jews.

However, unlike other nations scarred by the Holocaust, such as Germany and France, Israel does not have a law specifically barring the use of Nazi symbols and they have crept into society.

In the most noteworthy example, protesters at a tumultuous Jerusalem demonstration brandished pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform in the months before he was killed in 1995. Combined with calls for Rabin's death and hard-liners branding him a traitor, critics charged that the climate of incitement emboldened Rabin's assassin to shoot him.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators have donned yellow Nazi-style Star of David patches to protest at government policy and shouted "Nazis" at Israeli police who try to break them up. Jewish settlers have worn the patches as Israeli soldiers removed them from settlements to be evacuated. Sports fans have been heard taunting players with the slur "Nazi."

AP

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