'Jenin, Jenin Law' Will Prove Something's Rotten in the IDF

Rather than protecting the IDF, the new law will cement its image. An army that needs laws to prevent criticism of it is an army with a problem.

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The Yariv Levins have struck again: with the “Jenin, Jenin” law. From now on it will be possible to sue whoever slanders the IDF − and the 19th Knesset’s celebration of democracy has only just begun.

Just before this bill passes in the Knesset, having already been approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, here are some grounds for prosecution: The IDF is an army of the occupation; a substantial portion of its activities are the policing activities of occupiers; an army of the occupation is cruel by definition; the IDF kills innocents, including children; the IDF arrests children who are under the age of criminal responsibility; sometimes our soldiers have light trigger fingers, including in the last few months; the IDF systematically violates international law. Soon these statements will likely result in a lawsuit. Better say them now.

It’s unlikely that the new law will discourage anyone − there’s hardly anyone left to discourage. Even without it the army enjoys wide immunity in terms of public opinion and in the media, which worships the ritual of security and sanctifies the military. Rather than protecting the IDF, the new law will cement its image. An army that needs laws to prevent criticism of it is an army with a problem.

“The legal loophole invites someone to take advantage of it,” the ridiculous preamble to the law says, and the loophole has actually now been widened: Why only the IDF? The libel law, which was justifiably only valid for individuals until now, has been expanded to include the IDF. What about the Shin Bet security service? And the police? And why not the government? And the Knesset? And the Chief Rabbinate? And the National Insurance Institute? After all, they’re all criticized, sometimes falsely, so why not protect them with laws too? Count on MK Yoni Chetboun, who proposed the law.

The IDF chief of staff should have announced now: No, thank you. The IDF will not hide behind laws and intimidation. If Israel is proud of its army and seriously believes that it is “the most moral army in the world,” why does it need these laws? That’s just it − it seems that it isn’t. For if lies are being disseminated about the IDF, they will be cemented even without laws.

Relying on this anti-freedom-of-speech law is the final proof, more than any testimony or slanderous accusations, that something is rotten within the IDF − some sort of lack of confidence in the righteousness of their path, which this law is meant to cure. In this respect the law is actually worth something: It proves that there is something to hide.

The IDF’s image is a result of its actions. A thousand critical or slanderous articles will not alter the damage caused by one day of white phosphorus use in Gaza ‏(its use was recently discontinued, only thanks to the criticism and documentation‏). Operation Pillar of Defense would have looked exactly like Operation Cast Lead if it hadn’t been for the criticism in Israel and across the world. The Goldstone Report was vilified here, until it was eventually heeded in part. Here they insisted upon shrieking that IDF soldiers had acted appropriately on the Mavi Marmara, until Israel apologized for their actions.

A thousand true or false testimonies have not caused the IDF to suffer as much damage as one day of “Cast Lead,” “Defensive Shield,” assassinations, mass arrests, curfews and closures have. The testimonies about them should keep coming, and the opinions on them should continue to be heard. The IDF has more than enough methods of propaganda and publicity to refute what it thinks are lies. Therefore a law is not needed.

The new law, which was created following Mohammed Bakri’s film ‏(that has now had a law named after it, no small matter‏) and the vociferous criticism of a handful of reservists who were enlisted into the army of propagandists, is another link in the chain. Not the first and not the last, it outlines the new Israel: one that will try to spread an atmosphere of fear, to discourage journalists, to strangle non-profit organizations and weaken the courts.

This law, like all those before it, will disparage Israel even more: It will weaken its strongest argument, one of its last convincing arguments, that it is indeed a democracy, if only partially. Jenin, Jenin? Israel, Israel.

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