Zevulun Orlev, I used to think, was the last nearly respectable man in the National Religious Party, or as it’s now renamed, Habayit Hayehudi. Like the rest of the party, he defended permanent Israeli rule over the Whole Land of Israel, without seeming to notice that it meant an apartheid system in the occupied territories. But that didn’t seem to be where his heart was. It was reflex, or lack of imagination. He worked across the aisle with Knesset members on the left for social legislation. He wanted the party to have a wider platform than ultra-nationalism.
So I was wrong, or Zevulun finally got tired of the dissonance between moderation and his party. He’s the author of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to call publicly “to negate Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, where the content of such publication would have a reasonable possibility of causing an act of hatred, disdain or disloyalty.” Offenders could be punished by a year in prison. Today, the bill passed its first hurdle, when the Knesset voted 47-34 to send it to committee.
Zevulun, you must have studied Talmud. You must understand that some arguments contain their own refutation. According to the bill you authored, you and 46 other Knesset members could surely be charged with the criminal offense of denying both the democratic and Jewish nature of the state, most certainly arousing hatred, disdain and disloyalty. What could possibly be more undemocratic and more utterly, insanely un-Jewish than banning disagreement? What could cause greater disdain for the state?
By the provisions of your law, I would note, Knesset Member Alex Miller of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party would also be subject to prosecution and imprisonment, along with the members of the ministerial committee that this week gave its stamp of approval to a separate bill that Miller authored. Miller’s legislation would ban marking Nakba Day, the commemoration of the 1948 defeat and exodus of the Palestinians. Under Miller’s bill, memory itself would be a crime. Arguing about the meaning of history would be a crime. This is not only undemocratic, it is most profoundly un-Jewish.
I actually have no desire to charge Orlev, Miller or their parliamentary allies. I don’t believe in criminalizing thought. I have a very strong desire to see Israel awaken from its current nightmare and vote such politicians out of office, so that we can have a Jewish and democratic state.