Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israel Could Ban Holocaust Slurs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israel Could Ban Holocaust Slurs

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM -- Israel is on the brink of banning the N-word. N as in Nazi, that is.

Parliament gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would make it a crime to call someone a Nazi -- or any other slur associated with the Third Reich -- or to use Holocaust-related symbols in a noneducational way. The penalty would be a fine of as much as $29,000 and up to six months in jail.

Backers of the law say it is a response to what they see as a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world as well as an increasing, casual invocation of such terms and totems in Israeli politics and even teenage trash talk.

"We have to be the leader of this battle, of this struggle, in order to encourage other countries," Shimon Ohayon, the lawmaker sponsoring the bill, said in an interview. "We, in our land, can find enough words and expressions and idioms to express our opinions. What I'm asking is, please put away this special situation that has to do with our history."

But critics, including some with deep connections to the Holocaust, say the proposed law is a dangerous infringement on free speech and an overreach impossible to enforce. Though they, too, have been horrified by the recent appearance on Facebook of a digitally altered photograph of the finance minister in an SS uniform, the donning of yellow-star patches by Orthodox Jews demonstrating against an expanded military draft and accusations that the government's treatment of African migrants is comparable to Hitler, many suggest that such episodes call for a public awareness campaign, not criminalization.

"You have to build it by educational process, by the spirit of public debate, what you can say publicly and what you cannot," said Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial and museum. "I would prefer to create this kind of atmosphere that things are not done or not said or not expressed in this way. Societies know how to do it."

The bill, which has been much debated in Israel since its backing by a crucial committee of the governing coalition last week, is the latest clash between Israel's insistence on being both a Jewish state, where the Holocaust has special significance, and a democratic one, where free speech is a paramount principle and minority positions are protected. …

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