The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill last week mandating prison for anyone who attempts to dissuade a Christian Arab citizen of Israel from volunteering for military service in the IDF, or who urges desertion once such an individual has joined. The Joint List, which vehemently opposes the bill that was approved in committee, had been promised that no controversial legislation would be discussed during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which took place beginning last Thursday with the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan. However, while Arab MKs from the Joint List were absent from the Knesset to celebrate the festival, the committee nonetheless debated the bill and voted to forward it to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings.
“Everyone has the right to express their opinion, especially in view of the disagreement in the Christian community over joining the army,” MK Osama Saadi (Ta’al – Joint List) said to Haaretz. “The fact that [… the committee] held the discussion despite the agreement not to do so is suspicious and inappropriate,” he added, saying that the Joint List MKs would vote against the bill when it is brought before the Knesset plenum.
Nirit Moskovich of the NGO Social Guard attended the committee’s discussion. “On a day when many important debates were canceled because of Eid al-Fitr, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a meeting with Jewish MKs only and unanimously approved a bill that seriously violates Arab citizens’ freedom of expression,” she said.
Observers noted that the legislation currently in effect already mandates 3-15 years in prison for anyone who persuades any soldier serving compulsory military service to desert, as well as for one who aids a deserter or provides him or her with shelter. Indeed, Justice Ministry officials attending last week’s committee meeting said there was no need for the new bill, as existing legislation concerning conscripts could also be applied to volunteers.