The High Court of Justice on Thursday pressed both the Israel Broadcasting Authority and a nongovernmental organization on an epic battle over balancing free speech and national security in wartime over whether to compel the airing of an advertisement listing the names of Palestinian civilians killed in the Gaza war.
The NGO, B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, filed the petition following the IBA’s refusal to run the ad on the grounds that it would be a “politically controversial” statement. In addition that the ad itself was not balanced, and it would make it seem like the IBA was taking sides in the debate over the IDF’s/Hamas’s war-waging tactics.
In its petition, B’Tselem gave an overview of casualties in the war, saying that from July 8-26 more than 870 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip.
The NGO added that two Israeli civilians and one foreign national have been killed in Israel as well as 43 IDF soldiers (through July 26).
From the start, the three justice panel of Elyakim Rubinstein, Neal Hendel and Uri Shoham, playing hardball, asking B’Tselem no less than five times in the opening minutes what its real agenda was in running the ad.
The justices said that statistics about the Palestinian dead are all over the media and wanted to better understand why specifically B’Tselem thought it could force the IBA to run an ad with the names.
Hendel was unusually frank, telling B’Tselem essentially that it could not “ignore the context” of the Gaza war as a backdrop to the issue and that it needed to give more specific answers besides general free speech principles “if you want to convince us.”
B’Tselem’s attorneys Gilad Barnea and Hagai Kalai responded that the point of the ad is to inject into the public sphere what is normally absent, with this ad geared at humanizing the “other [Palestinian]” side for the Israeli public to better internalize the innocent loss of life by putting a face on the statistics.
It said that this is especially needed at a time when there is substantial hate and other propaganda being directed at the Palestinians to try to dull Israeli compassion.
The IBA’s attorney, Motti Arad, also came under harsh fire for allowing right-wing ads to run, but now trying to enforce its policy of no politics in ads selectively against a left-wing group.
It admitted it was mistaken when it allowed right-wing ads to run and tried to sidestep the issue by saying that proper procedures were restored, but the court slammed that response as equally selective, since the right-wing ads had already run.
Next, attorney Shosh Shmueli of the Justice Ministry shocked the courtroom saying that the state still had no official position on the issue as she had not been able to meet with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for him to make a decision.
The court was somewhat impatient with this response, but gave the ministry until Monday to express its position, implying any potential final hearing as well as a decision would come later that week due to the issue’s immediacy.