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New bill aims to protect IDF from defamation

Justice minister, one of two dissenting voices, warns motion could ‘boomerang,’ weakening rather than strengthening the IDF

File: Israel Border Police on patrol in Hebron (photo credit: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)
File: Israel Border Police on patrol in Hebron (photo credit: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted to approve a new bill that would allow for easier civil lawsuits against a person or entity for defaming the military.

Currently, individuals or soldiers who want to sue on behalf of the IDF must get special approval from the attorney general.

The bill, introduced by MK Yoni Chetboun of the right-wing Jewish Home party, was formulated, in part, as a response to Israeli-Arab Mohammad Bakri’s 2002 documentary “Jenin, Jenin,” which falsely implicated the IDF in a massacre in the West Bank city during Operation Defensive Shield.

“There was a hole in the law, and many took advantage of it. Those who insult and denigrate Israel and try to delegitimize it in the international arena, attempting to bring about boycotts of Israel and its citizens, have used the IDF as an easy target for their complaints,” Chetboun said Monday after the bill was approved for vote. “As a result of this legislation, the soldiers depicted in movies like ‘Jenin, Jenin’ would be able to sue the movie’s director for libel. It’s time to give IDF soldiers a say in the public debate.”

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Likud’s MK Yariv Levin, said the committee’s approval was an important first step toward “guarding the dignity and honor of IDF soldiers.” Levin added that it would put an end to the “open season on the blood and good names of our fighters.”

The legislation was opposed only by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid).

A Livni spokeswoman said that the justice minister voted against the motion because it clamps down on free speech and could have a “boomerang effect,” meaning that “instead of strengthening the IDF, the bill could weaken it.”

Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Jenin, Jenin” purported to document events that took place during the Second Intifada. It prompted five IDF reservists to sue Bakri for defamation, arguing they had been depicted as war criminals. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case although it ruled that the movie falsely accused and slandered the soldiers.

Im Tirzu, a right-wing group whose stated mission is to fight anti-Zionism and delegitimization of Israel, praised the preliminary passage of the motion.

“Today, an important step was taken in the fulfillment of the unwritten contract between the people and the IDF, whereby soldiers are prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to enable Israelis to live, and for the state of Israel to be sustained,” the group said in a statement. “In return for this sacrifice, civilian society and elected officials respect those who make those sacrifices, as they act from a deep sense of morality. The Knesset, in providing legal recourse for soldiers, has taken a very moral step.”

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