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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09TELAVIV1220 2009-06-05 13:23:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

RIGHT-WING KNESSET MEMBERS PROPOSE LOYALTY BILLS

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM IS 
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VZCZCXRO1705
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #1220/01 1561323
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051323Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2081
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 001220 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/05/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM IS
SUBJECT: RIGHT-WING KNESSET MEMBERS PROPOSE LOYALTY BILLS

Classified By: Political Counselor Marc J. Sievers for reasons 1.4 (b),
(d).



1. (C) SUMMARY. Israel's Knesset is in various stages of
considering several bills introduced by right-wing Knesset
Members (MKs) intended to counter manifestations of
anti-Israeli politics among Israeli Arabs. The measures
include criminalizing participation in annual protests
characterizing Israel's founding as a "nakba" or catastrophe,
authorizing a one-year jail term for denying Israel's
existence as a Jewish and democratic state, and requiring
those seeking Israeli identity cards to pledge loyalty to
Israel. Debate over these proposals intensified in late May
when a key committee initially voted to approve one of the
measures. Opponents rallied to stall that bill and build
opposition -- including from within the coalition -- against
the other initiatives. While there certainly exist more
supporters for such legislation in this Knesset than the
last, many legislative roadblocks remain, making passage for
most, if not all, of this legislation unlikely in the near
future. END SUMMARY.



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LOYALTY BILLS DRAW INCREASING ATTENTION


--------------------------





2. (U) Right-wing MKs over the past two months have
introduced a series of legislative measures that focus on
ensuring Israeli citizens' loyalty to Israel as a Jewish
state. The bills not-so-subtlely target Israel's twenty
percent Arab minority. Most were introduced in the previous
Knesset but languished due to limited political support.
Now, however, they have received greater scrutiny because the
Netanyahu government's right-wing composition appears to some
to increase the chances the legislation will advance.



--------------------------


WATCH WHAT YOU SAY, DO


--------------------------





3. (U) Three measures have garnered the most attention. The
first, introduced by MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beitenu, is
the so-called "Nakba" bill, which calls for a prison sentence
of up to three years for anyone who publicly observes Nakba
("catastrophe" in Arabic) Day (note: many Arab communities in
Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, along with some Israeli
university campuses and other locales, annually commemorate
Palestinian refugees' displacement upon Israel's founding in
1948). The Knesset's Ministerial Legislation Committee
(composed exclusively of government ministers) voted in late
May to support this measure, which normally indicates that
the bill has a legitimate chance to become law. Following
the vote and the mostly negative commentary in the press,
however, several ministers appealed the decision, sending it
back to the committee for reconsideration. Cabinet Secretary
Zvi Hauser is working on a compromise that, instead of
outlawing such demonstrations, would deny government funding
to municipalities or organizations that organize or fund
Nakba events.



4. (U) The second bill, introduced by Ze'ev Orlev of the
Jewish Home party, calls for a one-year jail term for anyone
who denies Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic
state. The legislation on May 27 passed a preliminary
reading in the Knesset by a vote of 47-34. The third bill,
sponsored by Knesset Law Committee chair and Yisrael Beitenu
MK David Rotem, would require anyone seeking citizenship,
including people moving to Israel and 16 year-olds obtaining
their first identity cards, to pledge loyalty to Israel as a
Jewish state, and committing themselves to perform military
or national service. The Ministerial Legislation Committee
on May 31 rejected the measure.



--------------------------


THE DEBATE SURROUNDING THE DEBATE


--------------------------





5. (SBU) The bills sparked only modest public debate prior
to the Ministerial Legislation Committee's initial approval
of the Nakba bill. It appears, however, that that vote
jolted centrists and those on the left to work more
forcefully against the bills. Likud ministers Bennie Begin,
Dan Meridor, and Michael Eitan, along with Labor Ministers
Isaac Herzog, Avishay Braverman, and Shalom Simhon formally
submitted appeals to the ministerial committee, with Eitan
noting that the law "will prove ineffective and will do
nothing but smear freedom of speech in Israel" while making
heroes out of those who observe Nakba Day. Labor party
members went further in their criticism. Braverman labeled
these proposals immoral and undemocratic, declaring that they
only create tension with the Israeli-Arab population, while
Labor MK Yuli Tamir predicted that proposals like these would

TEL AVIV 00001220 002 OF 002


lead to rising hate and violence. Yisrael Beitenu's Miller,
however, noted the violence surrounding Nakba Day events in
2008 and declared that his legislation is the first step in
stopping organized incitement against the state. Other
proponents pointed to a need for laws that formally link the
rights and benefits of Israeli citizenship to the
corresponding obligation to support the state.



--------------------------


UPHILL CLIMB FOR PASSAGE IN THE KNESSET


--------------------------





6. (C) These bills face numerous hurdles on the path to
becoming law. The bills appear to lack clear support within
the coalition. The Likud and Labor ministers who submitted
appeals following the ministerial committee's initial
approval of the Nakba bill have pledged to work together to
ensure its defeat, and political commentators speculate that
the committee will reject the measure if and when it is
reconsidered. The ministerial committee already has rejected
the loyalty oath proposal, meaning it has very little chance
of advancing in its current form. The other measure,
criminalizing denial of Israel's existence as a Jewish state,
did not go through the ministerial committee, so it is
difficult to measure its true support within the coalition.
It has passed a preliminary reading, but many bills reach
that stage without becoming law. Even if the bills gain some
traction within the government, supporters must prevail in
three separate votes in order for the legislation to become
law. Furthermore, prior to the third vote, opponents have at
least two opportunities to amend the legislation. In sum,
while the make-up of this Knesset does offer a more
"hospitable" environment for such legislation, we do not
expect many, if any, of these measures to become law in the
near future.

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