A bill drafted by Yisrael Beiteinu banning the filming of Israeli soldiers' activity in the West Bank passed a preliminary Knesset vote Wednesday despite reservations from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Forty five members of Knesset supported the bill, while 42 stood in opposition. Coalition members clarified that the wording of the bill would change before moving forward.
The version approved Wednesday calls for a five-year prison term for anyone filming or distributing footage on social media that documents confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, with the intent to “break the spirit of Israeli soldiers and inhabitants.” Anyone who documents such activities and disseminates the information with an intent to harm national security could face up to 10 years in prison.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), who had requested the coalition's support for the bill, criticized its current version: "this proposal would disproportionally harm freedom of expression. Israel has nothing to hide and these kinds of broad restrictions, where they are not necessary for security or foreign affairs, might look problematic from the outside."
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The bill's sponsor MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) called for supporting the original version, which passed the preliminary vote Wednesday. "All the confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians are documented by the IDF and make it to the international media. Nobody is preventing that," Ilatov said. "What we want to prevent is biased, anti-Israeli coverage that comes out against Israeli soldiers. Soldiers are provoked 24 hours per day and nobody shows this, they will only show the reaction of the provoked soldier."
Deputy Knesset Speaker Esawi Freige (Meretz) attacked the coalition. "Sure, they're right. It weighs on your conscience. Why see the distorted reality, the rising racism and the violence in the territories when you can place a fig leaf over it and censor this brutal truth", Freige said. "The lens only films the illegal reality that Ilatov and his friends are trying to erase."
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said that "according to the bill, the coalition also understand that reality is problematic, except instead of changing it they want to shut the blinds and hope that no one will notice. This will is first and foremost an attempt to regularize the ills of the occupation but it is also an attempt to dismantle democracy and harm the freedom of the press."