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Sex, gambling and violence-oriented Web sites will automatically be blocked by Israeli Internet providers, according to a bill that passed its first Knesset reading yesterday.

The bill, proposed by MK Amnon Cohen (Shas), ensures that any customer who does not explicitly ask to be allowed to view such sites will be automatically blocked by by the provider.

The coalition worked to bring as many members as possible for the vote, as part of its efforts to placate Shas, which has threatened to quit the government over the peace process. The vote was 46 to 20 in favor of the bill.

Among the factions voting for the bill, in addition to Shas, were MKs from Labor, United Torah Judaism, the National Union-National Religious Party, Kadima, the Pensioners' Party and Ra'am-Ta'al. MKs from Likud, Meretz, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz, the National Union-National Religious Party and Balad voted against the legislation. Two Labor lawmakers voted against the bill: MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Eitan Cabel, and four voted in favor.

The legal adviser to the Knesset Economic Committee said he would have difficulty defending the law if it were challenged in the High Court of Justice, due to the refusal of Communications Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) to submit to the committee the list of sites that would be blocked to the general public.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) threatened to petition the High Court against the law if it passed its second and third reading.

The bill would require Internet providers to send two letters to a client informing them about the filter service, followed by a third letter announcing its installation. Only those identified as adults will be able to request that the service not be installed.

The communications minister would decide which sites would be blocked. Atias said an independent public committee would be convened ahead of the second and third readings of the bill to decide which sites would be blocked.

The bill would require Internet servers to approach their subscribers within 60 days of the passage of the law, and servers who broke the law would be fined up to NIS 240,000.

However, it was explained to the committee that the technology does not yet exist for an Internet service provider to quickly filter sites.

Knesset Economic Committee chair Gilad Erdan (Likud) said "the Labor Party has once again betrayed its voters. Four of its members supported blocking the Internet and only two supported it, while the rest disappeared." Erdan also said the law would "turn Israel into a kind of Iran."

Yachimovich said the law would "create a blacklist of those who asked not to block their computer. This is another item in Shas' shopping list on its way out of the cabinet."

Cohen said: "The state will not renege on its responsibility to its children."

"This is a black day for the Internet community in Israel," said Rimon Levy, president of the Israeli Internet Association. "The law will not protect even one child and will force a sheriff on citizens - the Communications Ministry."