Photo Credit: IDF
IDF Paratroopers Brigade Reconnaissance Battalion

The Knesset Plenum on Wednesday redefined freedom of expression approved a Penal Bill prohibiting the “documentation of IDF soldiers,” submitted by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu) and a group of MKs. It was passed by a vote of 45 in favor and 42 opposed, and was transferred to the Justice Committee for debate and amendments.

The bill prohibits as criminal offenses the filming, photographing, recording or distribution of video or audio footage documenting soldiers while they are carrying out their duty, with the intention of ruining said soldiers’ morale, or aiming to impair State security.

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The explanatory notes state that “for many years now, the State of Israel has been witness to a worrisome phenomenon of video, photo and audio documentation of IDF soldiers by anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian organizations the likes of B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence, and various BDS organizations. In many cases, these organizations spend entire days next to IDF soldiers, waiting patiently for an activity that may be filmed in a biased and slanted manner to cast shame on them. For the most part, the documentation is performed while interfering with the ongoing operational activity of IDF soldiers, and sometimes even while hurling accusations and insults at them. The filming is tendentious and edited in a one-sided manner, with only one objective – to break the spirit of IDF soldiers and the citizens of Israel.”

“Most of these organizations are supported by associations, organizations and governments with a clearly anti-Israeli agenda, who use this biased content to inflict damage on the State of Israel and its security. Consequently, the aim of the proposed law is to immediately ban the documentation of IDF soldiers, for the sake of the State of Israel’s security.”

If you’re getting the feeling this bill is a little over the top, you’re not alone. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi clarified that the Ministerial Committee decided to oppose MK Ilatov’s original wording and to support his bill at the preliminary reading only if he undertakes to adjust it to a less aggressive version.

A wounded Ilatov said, “The enlightened Left responded to this bill in racist ways and told me to go back to Uzbekistan. The soldiers that we send don’t have to be at the forefront of BDS organizations, and we [don’t need] to let you, those who support these organizations, spread slander against the State of Israel. There is a double standard here that we cannot accept. MKs here send the soldiers on missions and want them to be attacked. Who among these same activists goes to document soldiers of other armies who are in territories that are not theirs?”

”I have no intention whatsoever of infringing on freedom of expression, but freedom of expression is not anarchy. There is no army in the world that allows the documentation of its activities 24/7,” Ilatov asserted, probably because he hadn’t heard of the embedded reporters who spend many days in the field with US military units. They, like any B’Tselem activist must adhere to the authority of the military sensor – but to actually criminalize taking soldiers’ pictures has a disturbing potential of doing more bad than good.

MK Eyal Ben Reuven (Zionist Camp) opposed the bill, saying, “For 35 years I proudly wore the IDF uniform. I never felt the need to hide from cameras, other than for security purposes. When I commanded IDF soldiers I taught them how to act in areas where there are cameras.

“This law was apparently written by those who are not familiar with our soldiers and officers. This law will first and foremost inflict damage on them. Our strength lies, among other things, in our ethics of warfare and consequently this law conveys weakness, and provides international entities seeking to drag our soldiers into the International Criminal Court in The Hague with the tools [to do so]. This bill contravenes the IDF’s spirit and values, and its mere publication provides the BDS with ammunition.”

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