Israel's Government Considers a Ban on the Word 'Nazi'

Israel's government could be on the verge of criminalizing the word "Nazi."

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Israel's government could be on the verge of criminalizing the word "Nazi." The proposal, apparently at least in part a response to the trivialization of the word (see: "Soup Nazi," Godwin's Law), would punish any non-educational use of the word — along with Nazi-associated symbols — with up to six months in jail and a $28,700 fine.

The proposal is opposed by the country's Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein: "“Not all behavior that offends the public deserves to be made a crime," he wrote in a legal opinion submitted to the country's Parliament. But, possibly due to a series of controversies in the country involving the use of "Nazi" and Holocaust-related symbols, the bill gained preliminary parliamentary approval anyway.

Those controversies include a widely-circulated image of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid (badly) photoshopped to appear as if he's wearing an SS uniform — although it's not really clear from where that photo originates. In addition to banning Nazi and Neo-Nazi symbols like the swastika, the bill would also ban the wearing of six-pointed yellow stars akin to those the Nazi regime required, and striped pajamas reminiscent of those worn in concentration camps. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency notes, Ultra Orthodox protesters in the country wear those symbols to protest the country's compulsory military service. In the past, Palestinians have also donned similar clothing to protest Israel's military presence in Gaza, as pictured above.

The New York Times notes that Israel is hardly the only country to have laws on the books pertaining to holocaust related speech. Israel, along with many European countries, criminalizes holocaust denial. And Rwanda bans any "genocide ideology." While the new Israeli proposal's ban on Nazi symbols would bring it in line with similar European laws, the ban on the word itself goes further, as the bill's sponsor Shimon Ohayon told the Times:

“We have to be the leader of this battle, of this struggle, in order to encourage other countries. 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.”

As striking as the "Nazi" ban is, the measure would join a number of existing restrictions on free speech in the country. Israel already bans anyone who demeans Israel's democratic character or its status as the "state of the Jewish people" from running for office, as the Forward points out, and a number of similar laws have been used to keep many Arab parties and politicians out of elected offices. In 2011, Israel banned all boycotts against the state or its settlements in the West Bank, a popular protest tool used by those who oppose Israel's settlement building on land that Palestinians would like to use to build their own state in the future.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.