The Knesset easily passed on preliminary reading on Wednesday a bill that would make it illegal to use the word Nazi and Nazi symbols, but Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said the measure violates freedom of speech.

Only 19 Knesset Members voted against the bill, sponsored by Likud Knesset Member Shimon Ohayon, with 44 in favor, but the preliminary passage does not necessarily indicate the fate of the bill, which might end up being buried in a committee. If it reaches the Knesset floor again, the bill needs approval on second and third readings before becoming law.

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Several European countries ban the swastika and other Nazi symbols. The Israeli version would mean that even saying that Hitler is a Nazi or comparing former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hitler could be grounds for arrest, argued Hadash MK Dov Khenin. However, the bill specifically prohibits the use of the word “Nazi” to cases where there is no intention of education, documentation, academic study or reference to history.

The bill would make it a crime to call someone a Nazi or of trying to achieve the aims of Nazis.

Weinstein wrote in his opinion that while there is no question that it the improper use of Nazi symbols is disgusting, that does not mean that everything that offends the public should be a criminal offense.

Ohayon said on Israeli radio that existing laws in Israel concerning the misuse of Nazi symbols are not as strict as many in Europe. Violators would be subject to a fine of nearly $30,000.

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