Netanyahu -  Emil Salman
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset. Photo by Emil Salman
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A contentious bill toughing Israel's libel passed its first hurdle in the Knesset on Monday, passing first reading despite vocal resistance from both opposition and coalition members.

The bill represents an amendment to Israel's existing libel law, which would make it possible to sue a newspaper for libel, not only for commensurate compensation for any tangible damage caused by the publication, but for an additional sum of NIS 300,000 − without having to prove damages.

Critics of the amendment believe this will hamper freedom of expression and the independent press.

The bill was passed by a vote of 42 to 31, with Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu supporting the amendment.

Defending bill in front of Likud members just hours before the Knesset sessions, the premier said that he had "shelved legislations which I felt could harm democracy, even when it had an overwhelming majority," alluding to a recent legislation that called for a public hearing for Supreme Court candidates.

The premier said that as long as he was "prime minister, Israel will continue to be an exemplary and resilient democracy. No one will dictate what to think, what to write, what to investigate, and what to broadcast."

"But free speech must be granted to all sections of society," the PM said.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הכנסת אישרה בקריאה ראשונה את התיקון לחוק לשון הרע