The Israeli Knesset has approved the first reading of a bill that would ban organisations critical of the country’s military. The contentious bill, which passed by 35-23 votes yesterday, was proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The chairman of the right-wing Jewish Home party is seeking to criminalize organisations that are critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Bennet’s primary target is the group known as Breaking the Silence. The organisation of veteran Israeli combatants who speak out against the brutal nature of the occupation has become a major thorn for the government. Ex-soldiers have exposed wide scale abuse, looting and destruction. Their testimonies shed light on the grim reality of the occupation.

Addressing the bill, Bennett said: “Breaking the Silence has long ago crossed the line of legitimate discourse, when it chose a path of slander and lies against IDF soldiers on the international stage.” Another Israeli lawmaker Shuli Mualem accused Breaking the Silence of seeking to “undermine” the regime and its army soldiers.

If the bill passes two further reading it would authorise the education minister to bar groups and individuals from entering schools. One of the concerns raised during the debate was that the groups’ activity could lead to Israeli soldiers being prosecuted in international courts or foreign countries for actions carried out as part of their military duty.

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