MK Jamal Zahalka
MK Jamal ZahalkaIsrael News Photo: Flash 90

The Knesset approved on Tuesday night the second and third reading of the law which has come to be known as the “Nakba Law”.

The law stipulates that the Minister of Finance may withhold or reduce budgets from government-funded bodies who deny the existence of Israel.

37 Knesset members voted in favor and 25 opposed the law, which was initiated by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu). The law says that “any body that is funded by the state, or a public institute that is supported by the state, will be barred from allocating money to activity that involves the negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; the negation of the state’s democratic character; support for armed struggle, or terror acts by an enemy or a terror organization against the state of Israel; incitement to racism, violence and terror and dishonoring the national flag or the national symbol.”

The name of the law comes from the Arab Nakba Day (meaning “day of the catastrophe” in Arabic), which commemorates what the Arabs see as the disastrous results of Israel's War of Independence in 1948. That war began as a pan-Arab attempt to eliminate Israel and ended as a crushing defeat for the Arab side.

The law approved on Tuesday is a moderate version of the original law which was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in July of 2009.

MK Miller’s original legislation would have made participation in Nakba Day events punishable by three years’ imprisonment. That idea, however, was criticized by some as impinging on citizens’ freedom of speech, while others claimed it would be difficult to enforce and could have the opposite effect of that intended.

An exchange of harsh words took place between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and some of the Arab Knesset members during the heated debate over the law on Tuesday.

One such exchange occurred when MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) called the law “racist” and told Netanyahu: “I tell you that the world won’t believe you. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”

Netanyahu responded by saying:  “It is your right to quack, this is a democracy.” Zahalka then replied: “I speak Hebrew, I do not quack. On this black night we will turn to the whole world to receive protection against this anti-democratic government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu.”

Zahalka has a history of controversial sayings and actions. In May of 2009 he was forcibly removed from the Knesset after he shouted that a proposed law calling for jail for rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is “racist”, and conducting a shouting match with MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union).

Last September, Zahalka took part in a conference in India aimed at putting an end to Israel-India ties. During the conference Zahalka told Indians to stop purchasing Israeli arms because they are, he claimed, ineffective. He has also openly expressed his opinions that Israel should not be considered a Jewish state.

Zahalka is also the MK who took part in an interview on the Erev Chadash program hosted by veteran broadcaster Dan Margalit last year, in which he said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak likes to listen to classical music and kill children, comparing him to a Nazi. A shouting match ensued between Zahalka and Margalit, ending with Margalit asking Zahalka to leave the studio.