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Israeli bill targeting groups critical of army passes first parliamentary reading

The file photo shows a view of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) in session.

Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has approved the first reading of a bill allowing Education Minister Naftali Bennett to ban organizations he deems critical of the military from entering schools. 

The contentious bill, which was endorsed by 35-23 votes on Monday, needs two more readings to turn it into law.

The measure was first proposed by Bennett in December 2016 primarily to target Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli NGO that collects reports about abuses by the regime soldiers in the Palestinian territories.

The bill could authorize the education minister to bar groups and individuals from entering schools if “there is concern that their activity could lead to Israeli soldiers’ prosecution in international courts or foreign countries for actions carried out as part of their military duty.”

During Monday’s parliamentary session, Israeli lawmaker Shuli Mualem accused Breaking the Silence of seeking to “undermine” the regime and its army soldiers.

The bill, however, drew criticism from lawmaker Mossi Raz, with the left-wing Meretz party, who said, “There is a limit to silencing voices.”

Israeli soldiers transport a blind-folded and bleeding Palestinian who was arrested for throwing stones at Israeli settlers in the city of al-Khalil (Hebron) in the occupied West Bank, on November 11, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Since its foundation in 2004 by a group of Israeli veterans, Breaking the Silence has been a frequent target of ire from right-wing parties.

In response to the Israeli bill, the organization accused Bennett of promoting “occupation education” and trying to “crush every democratic value on the altar of the settlement movement.”

It also noted that those who hurt Israeli soldiers are actually “politicians like Bennett, who send us to control the Palestinians and are silent when settlers routinely attack soldiers and Palestinians.”

The anti-occupation group further emphasized that “the only way to stop us is to end the occupation.”

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