Right-wing MKs have launched a new effort to bolster the status of the Israeli flag in the form of a bill that would require the flag to be flown at any conference or other event in which Knesset members, ministers or other state representatives are participating.
Event organizers who violate the law would be liable for a 5,000 shekel ($1,300) fine, the bill says. In addition, state officials would be barred from participating in any other event organized by the violators for the next six months.
Just last month, the Knesset passed a law significantly stiffening the punishment for desecrating the flag. That legislation raised the maximum prison sentence for destroying a flag from one year to three, to bring it in line with the penalty for destroying another country’s flag.
It also raised the maximum fine for insulting the flag to 58,400 shekels from 300 liras. Liras are an old Israeli currency that hasn’t been used in decades, and 300 liras would be worth almost nothing today.
Both that law and the current bill have been harshly criticized on the left for infringing on freedom of expression.
The new bill has multiple sponsors, including Likud MKs Oren Hazan, Nava Boker and David Bitan and Yisrael Beiteinu MKs Hamad Amar and Oded Forer. Boker was also the sponsor of the flag law that passed last month.
The bill’s explanatory notes say the idea for the legislation came from a conference organized by Haaretz in New York last December, at which the Israeli flag was removed from the room during an address by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
“We recently witnessed the state president participating in a Haaretz conference in New York at which the Israeli flag was removed from the dais at the request of one of the conference participants,” the notes say, referring to President Reuven Rivlin. “The goal of this bill is to prevent a situation in which an official representative of the state participates in an event at which the national flag isn’t displayed.”
Last month, police officer Shimrit Raz told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee that one person was convicted of destroying the Israeli flag and sentenced to prison in 2015, while seven others were indicted. But Raz was unable to tell the MKs who the convict was or how long a prison term he received.
Since 2012, she added, police have opened 75 investigations into cases of destroying the flag.
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) used that meeting to assail the law stiffening the sentence for destroying a flag. “I’m against harming freedom of expression and I think one year is a proportionate sentence,” he said. “Why do you need to raise the sentence to three years?”
“It seems a bit strange to me that an enlightened country, one of the most enlightened in the world, should turn the flag into idolatry,” he added. “It’s ridiculous, annoying and infuriating. This is a democratic country with freedom of expression. We’ll soon reach the point that if people don’t kiss the flag every morning, they’ll be punished.”