Arab MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra'am-Ta'al) has reintroduced legislation that would lower the threshold for what is considered a racist offense and would ban the publication of materials that disparage the Prophet Muhammad through a "cartoon, defamation and insult." Sarsur is one of three sponsors of the bill, all of whom are from Arab parties.
Under Israeli law, a person whose actions are "crudely offensive" towards a religion and its believers is liable to one-year prison sentence. The new bill, which is an amendment to the Israeli penal code, would make the law less open to interpretation by omitting the word "crudely" and specifying some of the instances where the stipulated punishment would be applicable, such as the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.
The language of the bill, which is the latest iteration of a bill first drafted in 2008, also makes it illegal to denigrate Moses, Jesus and various religious scriptures.
"The publication of a cartoon that depicts the Prophet Muhammad is highly insulting towards Muslim believers as Islamic law forbids any attempt to draw the prophet or try to portray the image of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him," writes Sarsur in the preamble to his bill.
"There has recently been a noticeable increase in the attempts to hurt members of various faiths, whether directly or indirectly, including Muslims," he explains, noting that the attacks have been in the form of direct slurs and other "acts that cast a negative light on Islamic symbols." Sarsur says his bill would improve interfaith relations and address the need to "preserve the foundations of our religions and keep the honor of all faiths and cultures."
In 2012, the French government defended the right of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons that played off of the U.S.-produced film YouTube "The Innocence of Muslims." Riot police were ordered to take up positions outside the offices of the magazine, which was firebombed in 2011 after it released an edition that mocked radical Islam.