Israel passes law against mourning its existence

Takeshi Yokoyama, 70, and his wife Umeko, 64, carry boxes of food given as relief for tsunami victims in front of a ship washed on to land at destroyed residential area of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, nearly two weeks after the area was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, March 22, 2011. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament passed a measure yesterday enabling the denial of state funding to institutions that question the country’s existence as a Jewish state, in a move criticised as targeting an Arab minority.

The so-called Nakba Law, using the Arabic word for “catastrophe” which is how many Palestinians regard the founding of Israel, passed by a vote of 37 to 25 after an angry debate among right and left-wing lawmakers.

Civil rights groups have denounced the measure as an effort to restrict freedom of expression to Arabs, who make up about a fifth of Israel’s predominantly Jewish population.

The law would enable the withholding of funds to public institutions deemed to be involved in publicly challenging the founding of Israel as a Jewish state or any activity “denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Many Israeli Arabs, as relatives of Palestinians who remained in what is now Israel when hundreds of thousands of others were driven away or fled during a 1948 war over Israel’s establishment, question whether Israel should be a Jewish state.

Unlike Palestinians living in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war, Israeli Arabs are fully enfranchised though many complain of discrimination.

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers who introduced the bill insisted it was intended to defend Israel against what they see as a growing number of attacks on its legitimacy because of a continuing conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab states.

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