The Internal Affairs Committee approved for a first reading in the Knesset plenum a bill that would hand out harsher punishments for anyone desecrating the Israeli flag.

Under Israel’s existing Flag, Emblem and National Anthem Law from 1949, desecrating the flag could result in a one-year jail term.

The new bill will allow for imprisonment for up to three years, and it will also update the penalty for dishonoring an Israeli flag of 300 lira, worth about 10 agorot in a currency no longer in use, to NIS 58,400.

Internal Affairs Committee approves for first reading a bill that would give harsher punishments for desecrating the Israeli flag

(Committee Chairman David Amsalem)

The legislation, introduced by MK Nava Boker (Likud), seeks to make the punishment for desecrating the Israeli flag and emblem equal to the punishment for dishonoring the flag and emblem of a friendly country.

Committee Chairman David Amsalem (Likud) said, ”We degrade ourselves. Everyone is insulted when their national flag is burned. When we are insulted the punishment is one year [in jail], but when someone abroad is insulted it is three years?”

Police Superintendent Shimrit Reiss told the committee that since 2012 there have been 75 incidents in which Israeli flags were desecrated, but only seven indictments have been filed. In 2015, she noted, one person was jailed for desecrating the Israeli flag, while another received a suspended sentence.

Amsalem said, ”From these statistics I understand that the law is not really being enforced. I see that burning the Israeli flag is less severe than burning the English flag. This is strange. I thought we respected ourselves. What`s a 300 lira fine?”

MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Camp) said, ”It is odd that in a democratic country the flag is turned into a deity. In a democratic country there is freedom of expression. I stand when the anthem is played. A year (prison sentence) is proportional. Next we will be punished for not kissing the flag every morning. A flag cannot be given mythical status. The sanctions in this bill are disproportional.”

In response, Amsalem said, ”In every country, state symbols are a source of national pride. This is not a political issue. Americans are insulted when their flag is burned. Freedom of expression does not mean that everything is permissible. When people enter a synagogue or a mosque, they do not do as they please. At a concert, you do not stand up and start laughing. We should not exaggerate, but it is unreasonable that there is no sanction for burning an Israeli flag.”