A controversial bill that criminalizes filming IDF soldiers has been advanced by an Israeli government committee. The Israeli Attorney General, however, said it would not withstand a constitutional review in its current form.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which determines the coalition government’s position on all pending bills, has green-lighted the legislation, which envisages penalties of up to five years in prison for anyone filming or publishing footage showing Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) with an aim to “harm [soldiers’] spirits.” It is to be debated in the parliament this week. However, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he considers the bill to be “problematic” from a legal point of view, adding that he would not be able to defend it in court.
The legislation “presents serious legal problems,” Mendelblit said, in a letter he sent to the government committee, adding that it is unlikely to be upheld by the Supreme Court as it apparently contradicts Israel’s basic laws in its current form.
The legislation, which was proposed in April by right-wing politicians and backed by the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, says the sentence could be doubled to as much as 10 years if a published footage “harms the state’s security.”“For many years Israel has witnessed a worrisome phenomenon in which IDF soldiers are being documented via video, stills photography and audio recordings by anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups such as B’Tselem, the women of Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence and various BDS groups,”explanatory notes to the legislation say, listing the groups that are apparently targeted by the bill.
Those behind the controversial legislation also accused the NGOs of spending “entire days” waiting for any action by the Israeli forces, which they could then “document in a biased way to slander the IDF.” “The time has come to end this practice of left-wing organizations and activists, backed by foreign entities, having a free hand to videotape IDF soldiers while they fulfill their duty,” Robert Ilatov, the head of the parliamentary right-wing faction that proposed the bill, told the Jerusalem Post.
Following the Attorney General’s concerns, the bill’s proponents eventually agreed to amend it. However, the bill must first be presented in the parliament in its current form and would then be amended only during the debate, Israeli media report.
According to the reports, the amended version of the bill is expected to ban “interfering” with IDF activities and preventing soldiers from fulfilling their duties but would not put a blanket ban on documenting the Israeli soldiers’ actions. It would also envisage a penalty of three years instead of five for a breach of this law.
‘Tyrants restrict the rights of people … democracies do not’
The legislation has provoked angry reaction from various rights groups and activists who document the abuses committed by Israeli soldiers. The B’Tselem group particularly said that it will proceed with its work and “no stupid law could stop it.”
“If the government is embarrassed over the occupation, it should work to bring it to an end. In any case, visual footage of life under occupation will continue. This is a fact of life that no idiotic proposed bill will change,” the group said, according to the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.
The New Israel Fund, which funds B’Tselem, criticized the legislation as well. “In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, video footage of police and military activity has become an important tool for human rights groups and the media,” the fund’s CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Israeli media.
“It’s part of how citizens can blow the whistle on wrongdoing by authorities. We’ve seen that from Abu Ghraib to the case of Philando Castile. Tyrants restrict the rights of people to record what happens around them; democracies do not,” he added.
Videos showing Israeli soldiers gloating and cheering while shooting Palestinians have surfaced on social media on numerous occasions. One such clip shows an Israeli sniper shooting a motionless Palestinian to the sound of cheers, while another one portrayed a sniper openly using a Palestinian as “target practice.”
The bill, proposed amid world condemnation of Israeli violence at the Palestinian’s ‘Great March of Return’ protests –which saw 120 people killed– was earlier slammed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). If IDF troops have nothing to hide, “there is no harm in documenting their actions against Palestinians,” the PLO statement read.