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Columnist tears into "criminal" gov't before new law makes it illegal

The Knesset yesterday passed in first reading a bill which has been described by most of the Israeli media as “The silencing law”. Under the bill, which is an amendment to the existing defamation law, the maximum compensation in a libel suit will increase exponentially from NIS 50,000 (~$13,000) to NIS 300,000, a whopping $80,000. Most journalists I know in Israel make between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, tops.

But the bill’s real traps isn’t the sum of the fine. It carries a clause that says such lawsuits might be won without proof of damages; and another clause that stipulates a reporter must publish the comment of his subject in full. In other words, I can get sued for writing that the author of the bill is more dangerous to Israel’s future than Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah combined; and, if a newspaper wants to run a 300-words report suggesting a certain company is engaging in malpractice, it must also run the full comment of the company – even if it’s 5,000 words long. With the likely result the report will not run at all.

As damaging as the bill is, it’s not yet law and is still to go through a committee and at least one more vote in the assembly. Haaretz columnist and author Neri Livneh took advantage of it this morning in a Facebook status:

“Before the amendment to the defamation law enters the books, I’d just like to declare that this government, as a whole, is racist, Tzipi Livni, whose party tabled the bill, is a cowardly hypocrite, Barak is an even worse liar than Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman is a violent fascist, David Rotem (chair of the parliamentary Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which will review the bill) is a piece of shit, and every politician who supported the bill has excellent reasons for doing so – deep inside they know they’re either criminals, liars or shits, and that only bad things will ever be written about them by honest reporters; that Israel is becoming a place no longer deserving decent, democratic and human rights supporting human beings, and that, like my father said in his latter years, “Herzl was wrong.” While we’re at it, the IDF is an occupying army and Israel routinely commits war crimes in the Occupied Territories.”

Enjoy such venting while it lasts.

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    1. Ben Israel

      Wow, brings us back to the good old days of the MAPAI-MAPAM when in their normal discourse about the REVISIONIST-HERUT opponents they regularly called them Nazis, fascists, terrorists, etc, etc, etc. These Leftists have been holding their true feelings in for years because Israel has grown up somewhat in the last few years and epithets of this type have become somewhat politically incorrect, even if the sentiments have remained the same.
      Since Neri Livneh is so articulate I would like to recomment the following list of political insults used in the old USSR including some golden oldies used by the Soviet prosecutor Andrei Vishinsky who was the fellow who succesfully prosecuted all the Trotskyite-Fascist-Reactionary scum that was dealt with in the famous show trials of 1937 and 1938. I hope Livneh and those who agree with him use this list in order to give a little variety to their intelligent political writing:


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    2. Carl

      Ben, rediscover your admirable even handedness as displayed on the thread about closing Radio All For Peace. Whether you agree or disagree with the Livneh’s comments, bear in mind you will – in theory at least – be just as subject to the libel laws as she will. No more slating us poor left wingers: we’ll sue your mouth shut.


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    3. After this undoubtedly excellent law is enacted, we may expect to see very polite reporting like this:
      “Today it rained and then became sunny. I am very pleased to say that Avigdor Lieberman is by no means a violent fascist, and the IDF (bless its gentle soul) is not an army of occupation, and nor does Israel routinely commit war crimes in the Occupied Territories. Tomorrow, it is expected to rain.”

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    4. Devin

      The last free country gone by the wind. How it happened? God knows. I always thought the freedom fighter in Israel do not let Israel goes to this dark situation. BB and right wings took the country back to dark stage. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Moracco, Bahrain, yeman and other countries gaining space in freedom and Israel are going deep in dictatorship. Is there any hope for Israel to fight back and gain back the democracy?

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    5. Christopher Heward

      Surely this law must apply both ways? As in if you post something positive you’ve got to quote the comment? So even if you say real Pro-Israel stuff you need to quote as well.

      What is a ‘comment’ anyway? I’m a little confused. Do I have a comment? Is it saying that when you write an article the subject must be able to comment on it in advance?

      To be honest, if that’s the case, then isn’t that what a lot of people in the UK are arguing for as a result of the News of the World stuff? That newspapers should have to post massive apologies, or, even better, include the actual person’s thoughts.

      I know this could be used for bad intentions, but surely generally it’s a good thing? I mean if you write that someone is a fascist then surely they should be able to defend themselves? It would also then encourage you to back up why you think they are fascist. Otherwise you get what we have now where people just mudsling and you’ve no idea what’s the truth (although a lot of people just assume that what their favourite media outlet writes is true…).

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    6. Ben Israel

      Right-wing journalists at Makor Rishon including Amnon Lord and Haggai Segal have come out against this law. What bothers me is the return to the foul language of attacks that Israel saw too much of decades ago. If Livneh opposes the law, he can do so as a civilized person.

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    7. sh

      Indeed this is not a left-right issue, BI. Barak, ex-leader of the supposedly left-wing Labor party, voted for the bill.
      Neri Livneh’s a she. Unlike some we won’t mention, she has called for the death of no-one, has cast spells with Aramaic names on no-one and apart from one word in the English (her original was in Hebrew), used no language that qualifies as foul either. And what has she said that can seriously be disputed? Do we have anything that qualifies as opposition in Kadima? Don’t they all lie through their teeth? Is Lieberman not a fascist? Can today’s two-tier Israel truly be called a democracy? Etc. Time we had borders. And a constitution.

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    8. Ben Israel

      I agree with you 100% regarding the matter of Israel needing a constitution. Greg Pollack is absolutely right that Ben-Gurion carried out a coup when he unilaterally proclaimed that the body elected to draw up a constition in 1949 was going to be a parliament and no constitution would be drawn up. BG didn’t want his hands tied by a constitution (it is popular today to claim that the religous parties were the ones that blocked a constitution but it was the MAPAI establishment that was the real cause).
      However, a Constitution must be drawn on as wide an basis of national consent as possible, not rammed though the Knesset on a narrow majority as was done with the so-called “basic laws” that were passed in the 1990’s which Aharon Barak then said formed the basis of “Constitutional Law”. As I recall one of the laws passed in the Knesset with a vote of something like 24-22 with most MK’s not even bothering to vote.

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    9. The policing of content is a social matter, not one of law. Reider’s quote of Livneh is irrelevant. I don’t understand the Knesset’s hysteria. Why begin this process when they seem to be winning? What are they afraid of, within Israel, not without, not in the Occupied Territory? I guess that this and the Boycott Law may silence those in other socio-economic networks. I am reminded of the American Tea Party which, angry at not understanding the world, try to force the world into their fable (“the very rich make jobs and should not be taxed more”).
      The impact on journalists is clear, but why should they care about journalists when the polls seem to support their right wing? Somethng’s wrong. They are worried, and need to force the world to fit their fable. But what is that something?
      Of course, I am with SH, above: “Time we had borders. And a constitution.”

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    10. Ben Israel’s comment appeared after I submitted mine, above. To strive for a neutral stance on the constitutional past, I would say that the Constituent Assembly usurped soverignty by declaring itself the Knesset. It really doesn’t matter now what coalition made the play; the reality that all can assent to is that the play was made.
      As an outsider, I agree with Ben Israel that the Knesset should not, really can not, form a constitution, for the simple reason that under the principle that “the Knesset is the people,” a future Knesset could simply annul or revise the product of its earlier sitting. And Ben Israel is right that marginal votes failing of an absolute majority, summing both yeas and nays, is painfully ridiculous. The High Court under Barak was attempting to create a check on Administration and the Knesset; this attempt was as false as the original Knesset usurption of soverignty. But such Court replies are inevitable under your present political/legal structure. Israel needs a constitutional convention separate from the Knesset. It must have a pre-defined limited life, and its product must be subject to a plebisite. Delegates to the convention should be chosen mostly through election, if not completely (I guess you could allow the President and Knesset each to appoint a few delegates). Ben Israel is right that the election of a convention must have a wide sampling of electorial opinion.
      You are in constitutional ciris, have been since the 90’s. The Knesset, for reasons I still don’t understand, is accelerating things. Instead of calling each other names, left, right, stupid, whatever, you can all stand on the issue of a constitutional convention.

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    11. AYLA

      This site is becoming my classroom, the regular cast of character commenters among my teachers. @Dimi Reider–you”re consistently brilliant. Lack of freedom of press is indeed among the biggest, actual threats to Israel at this time, and we must fight each incident, immediately. ***Can someone please address my ongoing question about petitions, Moveon.org style? These really aren’t right-left issues (even if the seeds of the issues are); I trust we could get the average, moderate Israeli behind protecting freedoms of the press (for example), and an online petition to the Knesset from the People seems doable. I take it this hasn’t been a tactic in Israel in the past (?), but why couldn’t it become one? Why couldn’t there be an equivalent of Moveon? @BI–Livneh’s tone was obviously exaggerated for fun–his (her?) final words before being silenced–though I’m sure he also believes what he said. Still, it was a fb status update, and clearly meant to make people laugh, however darkly. I just wish someone would introduce Israeli writers to the semicolon.

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    12. AYLA

      p.s. not that Livneh wasn’t dead serious, too. And right.

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    13. I can only say thank you for being brave enough to deliver such blunt remarks where they are rightfully deserved

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    14. Mikesailor

      @Greg Pollock: Israel cannot and will not ever promulgate a Constitution because the problems such a document would engender directly contradict the premise of ‘Zionism’. Zionism is predicated on the belief that Jews, in their own country, will remain as an ethnically ‘pure’, unassimilated dominant force without any boundaries or laws inhibiting their polity. How on earth would you ever allow the Jews to become inhibited in their ‘freedoms’ by law? Would you place in such a constitution a ‘specialness’ for Jews? That the rule of law would only apply if convenient? That equal protection of the law would be inoperable when it restricts ‘Jewish’ rights over the rights of non-Jews?
      Israel has always been a ‘country’ shrouded in ambiguity. No borders, no definition of ‘citizenry’, ‘laws’ which can be violated for political expediency with impunity, a supine Supreme Court which will always agree to delay or ignore the non-enforcement of its own edicts less it offend the ‘powers that be’. So, how do you draft or adopt a constitutional form of government which would presuppose enforcement? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
      Examine the Bill of Rights within the US Constitution. How many would Israel be able to adopt? Due process of law? (Except when the ‘victims’ are not Jewish). Freedom of speech or of the press? (Except when those freedoms are not in line with the dominant ethos). Right to Counsel ( Except when the defendant is non-Jewish especially in ‘terrorism’ cases or when the ‘security services’ offer secret evidence unseen by anyone, even the court itself). A Constitution cuts both ways. It places rules and laws which cannot be amended or ignored by whim. Therefore, Israel is uniquely unsuited to ever being able to write one without throwing Zionism, and it faulty premises and myths, over the side in favor of universal values. Therefore it would be ‘assimilated’ into the world polity and could not expect the ‘special right’ to violate universal norms without sanction.

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    15. Adele Roberson

      Of course, now we are all left wondering.
      What is going on in Israel that cannot be seen in the light of day?? Why the secrecy? What egregious matters and activities is Israel hiding? Why? When? How?

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    16. Henry Weinstein

      The only democracy which has
      No constitution
      No constitutional guardian
      No separation of powers
      No civil society
      No borders.
      . .
      . . .
      # From the same author you may also dislike another poem about this truly unique democracy, under http://972mag.com/threats-to-israeli-democracy-tolerance-gather-momentum/27639/
      # It’s time to write a Brechtian musical on this Billsmania. Threat Show Must Goes On, something like that.
      # For an outsider, it’s impossible to underestimate the side-effects on Israeli psyche of 3 years of service in the IDF, in a society already very closed.
      # I notice we all try to say “Awake!” on this thread and all recent threads.
      It reminds me what late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri said in 2009 to denounce the brutal crackdown in Iran: “The Islamic Republic is neither Islamic nor a Republic”.

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    17. MikeSailor,
      Israel already has a constitutional document, the Declaration of Independence, which insures equal protection under the law. In fact, that document requires any drafted constitution to affirm full equality in social and political rights (maybe one reason why the Constitutent Assembly avoided writing one, transforming itself into the Knesset).
      Words are often ignored for long periods in constitional law. Almost a century went by before the American constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause was activated to strike down school racial segregation–and it took another 20 years to (mostly) enforce the Court’s decision. All I can do is advocate the obvious. It will be up to Israelis to move toward a constitution. Talking about it is a start.
      I have elsethred stated my belief that the present Knesset may well force hesitent High Court judges to take refuge in the Declaration (note Knesset member calls to alter how Justices are appointed, or to deny High Court appellate power). Once that is done and, frankly, I think my predictive hope more likely will come off now than I did a year ago, the other words of the Declaration will be available for action. Will it happen immediately, in a consistent way? No. I like to point out that a US President famously ignored a US Supreme Court decision forbiding the forced removal of Chocktaw Native Americans, saying “the Court has made its decision, now let them enforce it.”
      The implicit path you take, MikeSailor, is condemnation of all things Israeli. That will not work. Will words like mine work? I truly believe such words, no matter delayed in actualization, are your only way out.

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    18. I add this fantasy:
      The High Court declares the Declaration of Independence to be a consitutional document, then calls (really, recommends), at every decision employing that document, for a constitutional convention to complete the intent of the Declaration. This will confuse the present Knesset no end.

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    19. Michael W.

      How many Arab countries have a constitution?
      …. Do you still think a constitution is the stairway to heaven?

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