A-G: Jenin Jenin bill unconstitutional, violates free speech

Bill inspired partly by 2002 film Jenin, Jenin claims IDF committed massacre in the West Bank refugee camp.

June 25, 2013 20:00
3 minute read.
The Jenin refugee camp

Jenin 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday declared the proposed “Jenin, Jenin” bill unconstitutional, stating that it violated the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

The bill – which allows class-action lawsuits against anyone who defames IDF soldiers’ operational activities – was inspired partly by the 2002 film Jenin, Jenin, which claimed that the IDF committed a massacre in the West Bank refugee camp.

The same year, five reserve soldiers filed suit for defamation, but the judge dismissed their case because they were not personally slandered in the film.

Weinstein noted that the intent of the proposed Jenin, Jenin Law had been to “fix” that Supreme Court ruling determining there was no basis to sue the makers of the film. The law’s aim was to create such a basis, providing new ways to litigate against such persons, said Weinstein.

But Weinstein also said that the ultimate result of the proposed law would also be to negatively impact the fundamental right to freedom of speech, and would upset the balance between defamation and freedom of speech.

He especially criticized the law for empowering individuals and groups other than the attorney-general himself to file defamation lawsuits on behalf of the public interest.

Weinstein said that such power was intentionally reserved for the attorneygeneral so that it would be utilized only in the most extreme cases, and to avoid unnecessarily chilling people’s right to free speech.

Earlier Tuesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussed the bill.

“This bill comes out against provocative use of IDF combat soldiers, like the film Jenin, Jenin, which lies and incites,” MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi), who co-sponsored the bill, told the committee.

“I’m in favor of criticism of the country’s institutions and even of IDF soldiers, but I am against lies.”

However, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee’s legal adviser said the legislation is problematic in that it singles out one group – specifically a group greatly admired in Israeli society – for special treatment.

Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), another of the bill’s cosponsors, said that “since laws against libel were passed, the attorney-general hasn’t made use of it and his authority.”

As such, Levin explained, this bill allows those who were defamed to speed up the process and sue. “This arrangement is balanced and minimal. It does not harm freedom of expression,” Levin stated.

MK Masud Gnaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) attacked the bill, saying that “everyone has an ideology and his own truth, and this bill is meant to stop any criticism of the IDF.”

“Murdering women and children is not an ideology,” MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) retorted.

MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) posited that “there are better ways to deal with people who lie like [Jenin, Jenin director Muhammad] Bakri.

“This bill will open the door for people to misuse the legal process. It’s an attempt to protect IDF soldiers as a group, but there are many weak groups that would want to be part of this law, and the additions will be never-ending,” Rosenthal said.

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said freedom of expression is essential to any democracy.

“Bakri is a great artist, and if he thought there were war crimes in Jenin, then he has the right to say so, and the public can judge his statements,” Zahalka said.

IDF reservists who attended the meeting supported the bill, saying they want to be allowed to set the record straight and sue Bakri.

“This movie follows us year after year,” Yonatan Kaspel said. “It cannot be that the country sends us to fight and then tells us to fight for our good name on our own. The minute I’m presented as a murderer and a criminal, the law must be changed to allow me to sue.”

Another reservist, Pavel Juliac, pointed to the Academy Award-nominated film 5 Broken Cameras as proof that “the Jenin, Jenin phenomenon isn’t over” and that incitement against the IDF continues.

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