Knesset Passes First Reading of New Anti-incitement Bill

Justice Ministry-led bill lowers threshold for what constitutes incitement to violence or terror, and will allow state to file more indictments against alleged inciters.

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The government approved the first reading of legislation loosening the legal criteria for what constitutes incitement on Monday, in a move that could infringe of freedom of speech, as part of an attempt to crackdown on what the Israeli government says is the source of the recent string of terror attacks.

The bill, being led by the Justice Ministry, lowers the threshold for what constitutes incitement to violence or terror, and will allow the state to file more indictments against alleged inciters. The Cabinet Secretary requested the Knesset fast track the bill, and a vote is expected as early as Tuesday.

Currently, the law permits someone to be charged with incitement to violence or terror only if it can be proven that their actions could directly lead to the perpetration of such acts. The new bill stipulates that no such proof is needed, so that just calling for such acts could now constitutes incitement, punishable by up to five years in imprisonment.

The current legal definition of incitement in Israel includes both verbal calls to violence as well as "the publication of praises or words of encouragement for acts of violence or terror", and the anti-incitement law forbids "expressing support" or "identifying" with such acts, clauses which some say turn the new bill into a slippery slope.

Because anti-incitement laws post a direct infringement on the principle of freedom of speech, indictment for the offense must be authorized by the attorney general. Recently, the special department charged with handling such indictments in the state prosecutor's office has said the clause demanding that a direct link be proven was hindering their ability to charge potential offenders.

The bill was first formulated in wake of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's 50 day conflict with Hamas and other Gaza groups.