(Haifa, Israel) Today, 14 March 2011, the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill popularly known as the "Nakba Law". In Adalah's view, the bill that was approved today is another link in a chain of laws that target Arab citizens of Israel and violate their rights to equality, dignity, history and culture and curtail their freedom of expression. Israel is a signatory to all international human rights conventions, according to which the state should undertake, inter alia, to preserve and protect the unique culture and history of the Arab national minority. This bill does just the opposite. The purpose of the bill is to prevent members of the Arab minority in Israel from exercising their democratic right to commemorate a seminal event in their history. This legislation will cause harm to cultural and educational institutions that teach about the Nakba by cutting their funding and will further entrench inequality and discrimination. The bill is both anti-democratic and discriminatory. If it is approved in the Knesset plenum, Adalah will petition the Supreme Court against it.
The bill would authorize the Minister of Finance to reduce funding or support provided by the state to an institution if it holds an activity that contradicts the definition of the State of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state, or that commemorates "Israel's Independence Day or the day on which the state was established as a day of mourning."
Prior to the Committee's decision, Adalah sent an urgent letter to its Chair, MK David Rotem, requesting that the Committee reject the bill. In the letter, Adalah Attorneys Orna Kohn and Sawsan Zaher argued that the bill threatens to cut funding to many institutions, including educational and cultural organizations, compromising their ability to provide important services to the public. These funding cuts are tantamount to the collective punishment of the public that receives these services, although such persons are unable to intervene in the decisions of these institutions over whether or not to conduct a certain activity.
Adalah stressed in the letter that the bill's approval would lead to major harm to the principle of equality and to the rights of Arab citizens to preserve their history and culture. Arab citizens of Israel are an indigenous minority living on its homeland, and their historical roots to this land run extremely deep, and thus their identity must be preserved.
The legislation also grossly violates the right to freedom of expression, one of the most important constitutional rights. If enacted, the law could be applied to an institution simply because it held a seminar or study day on a political issue that addresses the definition of the state, or that discusses the future vision of Arab citizens, for example, or a cultural organization that screened a film or held a play that discusses the Nakba. According to the bill, such activities are viewed as a threat to the existence of the State of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state.