Right-wing Knesset members who are working to destroy the democratic component of Israel's definition as a "Jewish and democratic state" have set themselves a new target: Silencing the free press through the threat of libel suits that would jeopardize the economic foundations of the media outlets.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, whose chairman is MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), last week approved for a first Knesset reading a private member's bill introduced by MK Yariv Levin (Likud) that calls for increasing the compensation for libel from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000, with no need to prove actual damage. That sum could rise to NIS 1.5 million if the complainant's response is not published in full. As in previous votes on antidemocratic legislation, this time, too, the right found common cause with MKs from Kadima. Leading the charge was MK Meir Sheetrit, who submitted a similar bill that increases compensation for libel to NIS 500,000.
Arguing on behalf of his draft law, Levin claimed that "freedom of expression is not freedom of transgression," while Sheetrit called for protecting citizens from "the great power of the media." Neither cited statistics to support their claims that existing laws are insufficient. In the guise of concern for civil rights, their bills constitute an attempt to silence the press and keep it from exposing and criticizing government officials, their cronies and prominent businesspeople. Given the financial straits of the Israeli media, the risk of having to pay out a fortune in compensation will functio.wn as a form of economic censorship of them, and help the government and "heads of the economy" to prevent criticism of their actions.
For some years now, democracy in Israel has been under attack from the right-wing parties, which control the current Knesset and enjoy the protective support of Kadima MKs in their efforts to establish "Jewish supremacy" using the tools of law. After the "Boycott Law," aimed at silencing criticism of the settlements, now it's the turn of the free press to be a candidate for punishment and elimination. This turbid wave must be stopped. The Knesset plenum must reject the libel bills of Levin and Sheetrit and preserve the status quo.
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