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Israeli law seeks to protect IDF from 'defamation'

The Israeli Ministerial Law Committee has approved a law developed by Yoni Chetboun of Jewish Home party, which would enable the IDF to press charges against individuals or entities propagating libellous information about the soldiers without the prior approval of the Attorney General. Claiming that the IDF has been erroneously represented in the media, particularly by activists pertaining to the BDS Movement, the law is supposed to enable soldiers to 'enter the public debate'.

The move drew criticism from Tzipi Livni and Yael German, who declared the IDF as 'strong enough to defend itself without the need for Knesset legislation.

Advocates have praised the law, describing as the culmination of fulfilling 'an unwritten contract between the people and the IDF … The Knesset, in providing legal recourse for soldiers, has taken a very moral step'.

The law is closely tied to the case of alleged defamation of the IDF's portrayal in the film Jenin Jenin (2002) directed by Mohammed Bakri. The invasion of Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield elicited accusations of war crimes from international organisations and Israel refused to allow a UN fact finding mission to access the area. The film focuses on Palestinians' testimony of the Israeli invasion at a time when the media was prohibited from approaching the area. The film was banned and declared 'libellous and offensive to the public' by the Israeli Film Ratings Board. Five IDF soldiers filed charges against Bakri for defamation however; the lack of personal slander throughout the film led to a dismissal of the case. Bakri was also deemed to have failed to substantiate the allegations portrayed in the film by reports from human rights organisation. 

Seen within the wider context of Israel's occupation of Palestine, the law furthers a culture of impunity which strengthens the existing loopholes allowing violators to escape punishment for any infringement of human rights. Independent investigations into human rights violations are never carried out, paving the way for internal investigations which always elicit the identical verdict of innocence. Witness accounts in these 'trials' do not include narration of events from victims, thus enhancing secrecy which, in turn, promulgates the facade of a 'moral army'.

While allegedly protecting the IDF from 'severe damage' due to the myth of having no access for recourse, it is worth noting that the law effectively strives to silence criticism and outrage by also distorting the definition of the military into that of a targeted civilian minority community.  Activism has recently been more vociferous on a global level, reflecting an awareness of the occupation's repression of Palestinians. With the approved amendment, Israel's reality – which is entrenched in impunity, may strive to further shun the Palestinian narrative, already disregarded as fictitious due to the powerful propaganda of the occupying power.

Considering the legal ramifications designed by Israel, the approved law is a continuation of the processes which render the military an untouchable and glorified entity. Despite that within the parameters of defending security for Israeli citizens, there lurks the unspoken truth of guarding the establishment and ensuring the continuity of the occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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