Amid Breaking the Silence Controversy, Israeli Ministers to Discuss Bill to Let Soldiers Sue for Libel

Proposed legislation comes in the context of the case of Dean Issacharoff, whose claim that he assaulted an arrested Palestinian when he was a soldier was deemed false by the State Prosecutor’s Office

Hassan Joulani and Dean Issacharoff after Joulani was arrested in Hebron in 2014.
Activestills

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will consider a bill Sunday that would let soldiers sue for libel regarding the portrayal of their actions during military operations.

The proposed legislation comes in the context of the case of Dean Issacharoff, whose claim that he assaulted an arrested Palestinian when he was a soldier was deemed false by the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Four years ago a very similar bill was approved by the committee and was passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset, despite opposition by the attorney general.

That bill was meant to assist soldiers who said they had been harmed by the way they were portrayed in the 2002 film “Jenin, Jenin” — they would be able to sue the director, Mohammed Bakri. The bill’s new version specifically mentions Issacharoff as the reason for the legislation.

MK Yoav Kish (Likud), who crafted the bill, said the existing law did not allow a civil suit to be filed in cases like the Issacharoff incident. The State Prosecutor’s Office said this month that Isaacharoff, the spokesman for the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, had lied about his unit’s operations; he said he took part in an assault on a Palestinian detainee.

The current libel law states that a criminal complaint cannot be filed in cases where the libel is against an entire group. According to the law, only the attorney general can decide whether to file a complaint in such cases, though he has not used this power so far.

Kish told Haaretz that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit opposes the current bill. “This is a test for the current Ministerial Committee for Legislation,” he said. “Will the ministers prove their discretionary independence as the previous committee did, or will they give in to the dictates of the attorney general?”

The previous attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, said at the time that the bill was unconstitutional and would lead to “disproportionate harm to freedom of political expression.”

As Kish put it, “Israel’s slanderers are waging a war of delegitimization in the international arena. They want to abet a boycott of Israel and its citizens, and in recent years have chosen the soldiers of the IDF as a convenient target, knowing that no legal action would be taken against them.”