Bill to ban ‘systematic’ viewing of terror content readied for final Knesset passage

Anyone watching content praising or calling for terror attacks 'in a way that indicates identification with the terror group' would be subject to a year in prison

Police inspect the scene of a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Government legislation that would ban viewing media published or disseminated by terrorist organizations that issue calls to carry out terror attacks, or praise and encourage terrorist acts, is set to be brought for a final vote in the Knesset next week.

The explanatory text for the bill, which will be a temporary two-year order, says it is designed to help tackle the phenomenon of “lone-wolf” terrorism, where individuals who do not belong to any particular terrorist group are radicalized by consuming terrorist content, leading them to carry out acts of terrorism themselves.

Following constitutional concerns raised by the legal adviser to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where the legislation is being prepared, the bill has been moderated so that it applies to people only when their consumption of such content indicates they identify with one of the terrorist groups proscribed in the bill, Hamas and Islamic State.

The final version of the bill, which will be voted on in committee on Monday, states that anyone who consumes terrorist content in an “ongoing and systematic manner” and in “circumstances in which the consumption [of the terrorist media] indicates his identification with a terrorist organization” is subject to a one-year prison sentence.

The law states that it is not applicable to someone who watches such content “randomly, in good faith, or for a legitimate reason including providing information to the public, preventing terror attacks, or for research purposes.”

Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman said the caveats also cover journalists who view such content.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman holds a hearing on legislation that would ban viewing terrorist content, October 31, 2023. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson’s Department)

The justice minister, with the approval of the defense minister and the committee, can add other terror groups to the proscribed list.

During a committee hearing on the bill on Tuesday, committee legal adviser Gur Bligh raised concerns about the previous version of the law, in that it would criminalize behavior when the individual in question has not actually carried out an act of terrorism.

Bligh said that adding the stipulation that the manner in which an individual consumes the terror content, indicating whether he identifies with the terror group that published it, moderated the bill sufficiently so that it would not lead to “excessive criminalization.”

In criticism similar to the concerns raised by Bligh, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel had strongly criticized the previous version of the legislation as “anti-democratic,” and said it would create a “thought police” that could punish people “not based on their actions but rather on what is going on inside someone’s head.”

Rothman rejected this criticism, arguing that someone could be present in a Hamas training camp without committing an act of terror, yet that too would be illegal.

“Terror content spread online is another type of Hamas training camp,” Rothman told The Times of Israel.

Following the moderation of the bill, an ACRI spokesperson said the organization “appreciates the committee’s understanding that the original wording did indeed pose significant challenges,” although it had “not yet finalized” its position on the current wording of the bill.

The bill is set for its final vote in committee on Monday, and could be brought for its final readings in the Knesset plenum to pass it into law by the end of next week, Rothman’s spokesperson said.

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