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Knesset pushes bill to criminalize incitement against ultra-Orthodox

The proposed legislation would allow lawsuits to be filed against anyone who defames a specific segment of the Israeli population.

UTJ Knesset members Ya'akov Tessler and Uri Maklev attend a party meeting at the Knesset, Dec. 5, 2022. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
UTJ Knesset members Ya'akov Tessler and Uri Maklev attend a party meeting at the Knesset, Dec. 5, 2022. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday voted (54 to 34) to advance a bill seeking to amend Israel’s Penal Law to make it a criminal offense to incite against haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Sponsoring the bill were Knesset members Yaakov Asher and Yisrael Eichler of the United Torah Judaism Party. The Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the bill to move to the plenum for a vote on Sunday.

According to the bill’s explanatory section: “We are witnessing a growing phenomenon of incitement to racism against the ultra-Orthodox population.

“In particular, there are serious cases in which incitement is carried out by elected officials with the aim of dividing the people and thereby maximizing political gain, while harming the entire public and the unity of the people.

“This harm also has other consequences, including the entrenchment of racism in society towards the ultra-Orthodox population,” it said.

The proposed law would allow lawsuits to be filed against anyone who defames a specific segment of the population, for example by saying, “the ultra-Orthodox spread coronavirus.”

“The bill is intended to put an end to the constant defamation and media incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public,” said Eichler. “According to the bill, the media will have to be careful what they say when they defame the ultra-Orthodox sector, or any other segment of society,” he added.

The bill came about after a complaint was filed with the State Attorney’s Office regarding recent targeting of the haredi population, Ynet reported.

The State Attorney responded that the haredi population is not covered by the Penal Code regarding the offense of incitement to racism, as the law defines race in terms of specific racial or ethnic groups.

The bill’s sponsors were concerned that the State Attorney’s answer would encourage still more attacks on haredim, as defamers would know that they would not be charged under the law.

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