Knesset vote 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A controversial amendment to the libel law cleared another hurdle late Monday
night, after passing 42 to 31 in its first reading.
The bill, proposed by
MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), would raise the penalty for
libel without proof of damages from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000, should it pass in
its second and third readings. If damage were proven, the penalty would be up to
NIS 600,000, and the amount could jump to NIS 1.5 million if the media outlet
refused to publish the harmed party’s reaction.
The new libel bill
Livni: PM trying to weaken courts, media, NGOs
Knesset set to vote for 2 controversial bills
MKs Zevulun Orlev
(Habayit Hayehudi), Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu) and Yisrael Hasson
(Kadima) also signed the bill.
The initiative will be brought to the
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for further discussion and
preparation for its second and third Knesset readings. It is expected to undergo
The proposed legislation faced criticism from both the
coalition and the opposition, with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin voting against
it after nearly three hours of plenum discussion. Likud ministers who most
vocally opposed the measure – Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Intelligence
Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin – were
absent from the bill’s reading, as were nine other Likud MKs.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu voted in favor of the bill, following comments from
earlier in the day that if he thought a bill would undermine democracy “even a
little bit,” he would shelve it immediately.
“No one will tell anyone
what to think, what to write, what to investigate, what to broadcast. This is
not the way of the Likud. This is not my way,” he said at a faction
United Torah Judaism announced that it would support the bill in
its first reading, due to “coalition commitments,” but demanded that changes be
made before its second and third readings.
However, none of the haredi
factions’s members were present during Monday’s vote – a tactic that, some
sources said, may have stemmed from the colorful descriptions that are common in
haredi newspapers, some of which are aligned with the parties that make up
Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Orbach was present, but did not vote, and
his party’s leader, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, was
absent from the first reading.
The few opposition members to vote in
favor of the libel bill were National Union MKs and Sheetrit – the only Kadima
MK permitted to break party discipline, because he had proposed the
However, 10 Kadima MKs were absent from the vote, including
faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik, who has spoken out in favor of the measure in
the past, and Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich and Otniel Schneller, who were punished
in July for voting against party lines.
Sheetrit presented the bill to
the Knesset on Monday evening, saying that “a journalist must report the truth
and cannot report things that are not true.”
“He must be careful,
especially when dealing with a person’s reputation,” he explained.
Sheetrit and Levin said before the vote that they would be willing to discuss
possible changes to their initiative in the Knesset, and Orlev said he would
vote against the bill in its later readings if it were not significantly
Some of the changes that may be discussed include lowering the
suggested penalty while keeping it higher than NIS 50,000, as well as making the
amendment apply only to news sources and not to individuals on social networks
such as Facebook and Twitter.