Ministers vote to advance Facebook law

It allows a court to demand the removal of content from social media that could cause harm to a person, the public, or the security of the state.

NEW HOPE leader Gideon Sa'ar, August 2, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
NEW HOPE leader Gideon Sa'ar, August 2, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted on Monday morning to advance Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s Facebook bill, which would limit incitement on social media.

The bill, modeled after legislation that has passed in Germany, Australia and other Western countries, allows a court to demand the removal of content from social media that could cause harm to a person, the public, or the security of the state.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning for weeks that the bill would cause great harm to Israeli democracy.

“Israeli democracy is in danger,” he tweeted following the bill’s passage. “Sa’ar passed in the Legislation Ministerial Committee an Iranian bill that would censor social media networks in Israel.”

Sa’ar responded by urging Netanyahu to calm down and drink cold water. He said a Netanyahu-led government had advanced the same bill.

 Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu at his party faction meeting, December 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu at his party faction meeting, December 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“Everyone knows you defend criminality and incitement on social media, not democracy,” Sa’ar tweeted.

The same ministerial committee also voted on Monday to advance the so-called anti-Barkat bill, which would limit an elected official and his family to donations of NIS 100,000 a year for political activity, including polls, staff and rallies, when no election is taking place.

The ministers decided to bring it to a vote in the Knesset plenum in a preliminary meeting and then change it in a special committee led by Sa’ar.

The Likud faction will now have to figure out how to handle the issue ahead of the vote in the plenum. Monday’s Likud faction meeting was canceled, presumably to avoid dealing with the subject.

Blue and White ministers voted against the bill in the committee.

A Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post Group last week found that Barkat could bring the Likud many more seats than other potential successors to former prime minister Netanyahu, including MKs Yuli Edelstein, Israel Katz and Miri Regev. Barkat, who is the Knesset’s only billionaire, is expected to run for Likud leader if Netanyahu decides not to run.

Lastly, the ministerial committee rejected a bill sponsored by Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir that would have ended Netanyahu’s trial. The bill would have given the prime minister and his cabinet automatic immunity from prosecution.