The Israeli Knesset [official website] Tuesday passed a bill that imposes harsher penalties on illegal migrants in Israel, as well as on Israelis who help illegal migrants. The bill amends the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954 [text], broadening the law to include not only individuals suspected of terrorism, but all illegal migrants. Under the new law, individuals living in the country illegally can be arrested and held in prison indefinitely without trial. Israelis caught helping illegal migrants will face up to 15 years in prison if the migrants are involved in criminal activities. Currently, the Israeli government may not detain illegal migrants for more than 60 days. For years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official profile], who voted for the bill, has expressed his concern [press release] over increasing waves of illegal immigration into Israel, particularly from Africa. Netanyahu has called such migration a "tangible threat" to the Jewish majority in the country. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has criticized the bill as a violation of human rights [press release] and international treaties, including the Refugee Rights Convention of 1951 [UNHCR materials], which aided Jewish refugees after World War II. More than 18,000 Africans are believed to have migrated illegally into Israel by crossing the border with Egypt.
The Israeli government has been active in passing strict laws in the new year. An Israeli government panel Monday approved a bill that would make it illegal to use any Nazi symbols [JURIST report], names, or images, including the use of the term "Nazi" and any clothing resembling that worn by prisoners at concentration camps. The bill would impose a fine up to USD $26,000 and a possible jail sentence of six months, although Nazi symbols would be allowed for educational and historical purposes. Last week, Knesset passed a law that changed the rules [JURIST report] governing the selection of Supreme Court [official website] justices. The law has been criticized [AP report] for undermining the independence of the judiciary in an effort to further a conservative judge favored by the government. Many fear the new laws will influence judicial decisions, impede upon the rights of the press and be used to harass liberal groups.