Israel May Seek Tougher Line Against Incitement to Violence Than Livni Planned

Under a bill being considered, no call to an act of violence or terror deserves to be protected by the principle of freedom of expression.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Livni and Lapid during a press conference, November 21, 2014.
Livni and Lapid during a press conference, November 21, 2014.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The Justice Ministry is considering lowering the evidence criteria for incitement to violence or terror — lower than had been envisioned by former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was fired last week.

Last month, Livni said she aimed to tweak the definition of incitement to violence in order to come down harder on extremists without significantly undermining freedom of expression. The requirement for an indictment would be “reasonable probability” that the call to violence would be carried out.

But according to a new memo crafted by the ministry, probability would not have to be considered — simply the call to violence.

“The current situation, under which a call to an act of violence or terror ... is not prohibited in and of itself could lend legitimacy to violence in general, and violence in the public discourse in particular. It does not sit with the basic values upon which Israeli society is founded,” the memo states.

“A call to an act of violence or terror deserves condemnation in the criminal realm as well, even if it is insufficient to lead to violence or terror. It does not deserve to be protected by the principle of freedom of expression.”

The bill would be submitted in the next Knesset, which at this point is not expected to meet until after the general election scheduled for March 17. The election was called last week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two ministers to his left: Livni of Hatnuah and Finance Minister Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid.

A similar attempt to lower the evidence bar was made in 2006, but the bill did not get past the first reading in the Knesset.

Discussions on amending the law were revived after alleged incitement during and after the Gaza war last summer. Officials at the State Prosecutor’s Office, Public Security Ministry and attorney general’s office all considered such a move.

In the past three years there have been 30 charges of incitement to violence, incitement to racism and incitement to racism in sports — the latter based on the law prohibiting violence in sports. There have been 20 indictments.

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