A bill in Israel that would make all Nazi comparisons illegal was passed by cabinet ministers on Tuesday.
In reaction to protests last month in which ultra-Orthodox demonstrators dressed up as Holocaust prisoners, the bill would criminalize the use of the word 'Nazi' as well as other symbols of the Holocausts for anything but teaching purposes.
In a demonstration against perceived persecution by the government, members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem dressed up in the uniforms of concentration camp prisoners and pinned yellow Stars of David to their clothes. The poignant symbols outraged the nation, where about 200,000 Holocaust survivors currently live.
Instead of bringing attention to the ultra-Orthodox's demands that men and women be separated in public spaces, the protests sparked a dialogue about hate speech and about the general rise of Nazi comparisons in a country that was once too scared of using the term lightly.
There was... a time when the words 'Hitler,' 'Nazi' and 'Gestapo' were not thrown about recklessly, when images of the emaciated inmates of Nazi concentration camps were a reminder not just to the Jewish people but to all the world of the terrible turn of events that led to the death of 6 million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust, wrote Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, following the protests.
Never did I think that we would have to speak out about the abject trivialization of the Holocaust by a group of Jews living in Israel... The scene in Jerusalem square was both an aberration and an outrage. This was blatant, in-your-face Holocaust trivialization on a level that until now we have rarely witnessed in Israeli society.
During the protest, participants compared the government and police officers to the members of Hitler's party. The ultra-Orthodox have felt outcast in Israel for their conservative religious views. Before the New Year's Eve demonstration, Israelis were growing weary of the generally right-wing community, which had been trying to make Israeli women sit at the back of buses. A few ultra-Orthodox men also had been spiting at women who they felt were dressed too immodestly.
The proposed law would not only make the word Nazi illegal, but also all images, photos, drawings and sculptures referencing Nazism or the swastika, as well as other Holocaust symbols such as striped prison garments.
Unfortunately we have been witness in recent years to the cynical exploitation of Nazi symbols and phraseology, which is offensive to Holocaust survivors, their families, and many others among the Jewish people, the bill's sponsor, Uri Ariel of the National Union party, told the BBC.
The law constitutes an appropriate warning, and will anchor in law a fitting punishment for the despicable use.
Making comparisons to the Nazi party or to any of the related atrocities of World War II would carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.
But critics feel that the bill infringes on freedom of speech and of expressions.
Precisely because of the importance and centrality of the Holocaust, the attempt to dictate when and in what context it can be referenced is very problematic, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel stated.
This bill seeks in effect to control the public debate, its content and tone, with force, using criminal prohibitions and the threat of prison.
Freedom of expression is the right to say harsh, critical and even hurtful things. It is the right to give crude and extreme expression to opinions, emotions and thoughts and it also includes the right to make rhetorical use of difficult and provocative images, the organization added.