ACRI: ‘Jenin Jenin’ Law is Dangerous and Undemocratic



Proposed amendment to public defamation law would create a private right of action for otherwise anonymous soldiers to sue critics of the Israeli military




The “‘Jenin, Jenin’ Amendment” passed a preliminary vote today in the Knesset plenary. Under the proposed legislation, “defamation against the operational activities of IDF soldiers” would constitute grounds for combat soldiers to pursue civil lawsuits. ACRI voiced its staunch opposition to the proposed amendment in a letter sent to all members of Knesset.


The bill was tabled as a reaction to the 2002 film directed by Mohammed Bakri and a Supreme Court decision that rejected a defamation suit filed against Mr. Bakri by a group of soldiers who served in Jenin. According to the bill’s explanatory notes, the proposed amendment to the public defamation law is necessary in order to prevent “serious harm caused to IDF combat soldiers who are left without any possibility to defend their good names.” But in Jenin Jenin, the Supreme Court reached the conclusion that the film’s defamation of a “group of combat soldiers” did not defame any of the soldiers personally.


The proposed amendment is designed to exploit, for the benefit of maintaining the state’s image, the limitations on the freedom of expression that the existing law allows in order to defend the rights of an individual. According to the amendment’s explanatory notes, its purpose is to prevent “serious harm caused to Israel by false accusations leveled against the IDF.” Recruiting combat soldiers in an effort to exploit their personal rights as tools in a propaganda war is improper and unconstitutional.


Mindful that the enormous economic and emotional costs of defending oneself against a civil defamation suit can be as powerful as criminal sanctions, the Supreme Court warned that the “privatization” of the right to sue for public defamation will encourage baseless claims and have a chilling effect on the debate of important public issues such as the state’s use of military force. The threat and effects of this silencing will be brought to bear not just against publications like Jenin Jenin but also against whomever dares criticize, publish testimony about, or express an opinion on a unjustifiable use of force.


The proposed amendment will now go to committee in preparation for a first reading.


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Categories: Anti-Democratic Initiatives, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression

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