UK & World News

  • 27 January 2014, 9:55

Israel 'Must Lead Battle' Against 'Quenelle'

Israel must lead from the front in banning the use of Nazi language and symbols if it expects other countries to take tough measures against anti-Semitism, an Israeli MP has told Sky News.

Shimon Ohayon said the rise of the "quenelle" gesture in Europe should be seen as a reason for the Israeli parliament to fast-track his proposed new law.

The bill he has put forward would criminalise the use of the word "Nazi" as an insult in Israel.

The "quenelle" gesture, coined by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, has been perceived by many as an inverted Nazi salute.

Fans have been pictured making the "quenelle" pose outside places such as the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam and the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Dieudonne has numerous convictions for hate speech against Jews, and his show has recently been banned in some French cities.

He denies it is anti-Semitic, saying it is instead a symbol of emancipation.

While Mr Ohayon welcomes the support that France's President Francois Hollande has given to the bans issued to Dieudonne, he says Israel must lead by example when it comes to passing tougher laws.

"We have to lead. Israel as a Jewish state must lead this battle, to be on the front," he told Sky News.

"If we are expecting other countries to pass legislation to prohibit Nazi symbols we have to lead."

Within Israel itself, it is not so much anti-Semitism as the use of Nazi references as insults between Jews which prompted the drafting of the law.

At sports fixtures opposing fans have often been heard to sing chants accusing their opponents of being "Nazis".

On Facebook, opposition to particular government policies have sometimes resulted in doctored photographs being uploaded, showing the ministers responsible with superimposed Hitler-esque moustaches or wearing SS uniform.

Protests against extending the compulsory military draft in the country to ultra-orthodox Jews has also resulted in demonstrations in which Holocaust imagery was used.

Ultra-orthodox children have been paraded wearing striped pyjamas and yellow Star of David badges - the implication being that the Israeli authorities themselves are behaving like the Nazis.

Similar use of yellow stars was employed by settlers who were removed from Gaza in Israel's unilateral withdrawal in 2005.

There are fears that use of Nazi references in these ways erodes understanding of the significance and importance of the Holocaust, but critics say the proposed new law would be overly draconian and would curtail freedom of speech.

Others, such as Avner Shalev, the director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, believe the problem can be tackled with other means.

"I do believe that educational means might do the same function, they have made the difference in the past," he said.

"I think they can create the right atmosphere in public discourse, and build up the culture of public discourse, which is more important than the bill."

The draft law has passed its first reading in the Israeli parliament.

It will be debated a further two times before it can be voted into law.

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