Following a stormy debate on Wednesday, the Knesset plenum approved in a preliminary reading a bill that would ban the use of the word ”Nazi” or symbols associated with the Holocaust or the Nazi regime, such as the swastika or the yellow star, for any purpose other than education or documentation.

The punishment for breaking the law was set as six months in prison and a fine of up to NIS 100,000.

The bill was introduced by MK Shimon Ohayon (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) and a group of lawmakers. The Protection of Symbols Bill (amendment – insulting the memory of the Holocaust), initiated by MK Eliezer Stern (Hatenua) and a group of parliamentarians, was attached to MK Ohayon`s proposal.

Ohayon defended the draft law, saying that when MKs try to convince their counterparts in other countries to enact more laws against anti-Semitism, they cannot bring examples from Israel.

“What should we tell them? This is your fight in Europe, but we (in Israel) will be fine with an abstract debate?” Ohayon asked.

”Freedom of speech is not total; it`s relative. There is a new reality here, and neo-Nazi movements are rearing their heads. If we don`t try to stop them, we are not doing our job.”

MK Stern said that while he cannot tolerate racism against Arabs, ”it should not be linked together with the Holocaust.”

MKs from the opposition harshly attacked the legislation. Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said that in its current format, ”this is a bill of cheating and silencing” and is meant to prevent people from expressing themselves.

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Israel Labor Party) mentioned that she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, but asked her fellow lawmakers to block the legislation. ”Does the use of Holocaust concepts in Israel legitimize anti-Semitism? Do you not have any better bills to propose?” she asked.

Yachimovich added that the legislation ”would have put (philosopher) Yeshayahu Leibowitz in prison for six months.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said the bill marks the ”bankruptcy” of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. ”This law is formulated negligently,” he said. ”According to the text, even somebody who calls Hitler a Nazi is breaking the law. Whoever makes a film about the Holocaust will go to prison. They are proposing here to send the prime minister to prison for comparing (former Iranian president Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad to Hitler.”

Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri also criticized the bill, saying ”I respect the memory of the Holocaust no less than anyone else, but is this what the plenum is doing these days? This bill is an embarrassment. Educate your children. Not everything has to be passed as a law.”

Meretz leader MK Zahava Gal-On called the proposal ”delusional” and ”detached from reality.”

”Where is the government’s judgment? You`ve gone crazy. Week after week you’re trying to silence people and prevent free speech,” she said.

The explanatory portion of Ohayon`s bill reads: ”Insulting someone by expressing the wish, hope, or anticipation for the fulfillment of the Nazis’ aims, or expressing sorrow or protest that they were not accomplished — (is) forbidden.

”Unfortunately, the phenomenon of using Nazi symbols and epithets has grown in recent years. The intolerable ease with which the day-to-day usage of these concepts as part of public and political discourse, and with blatant disregard for the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, is reprehensible,” the bill states.

Forty-four MKs voted in favor of the legislation, 17 opposed and 12 abstained. Forty-four MKs supported Stern`s bill, 20 opposed and nine abstained.

The bills will be transferred to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which will prepare them for the first reading.