'Libel law protects truth, strengthens democracy'

Netanyahu: Nobody thinks there will be a thought police; Mofaz warns “1984 is already here."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended the controversial amendment to the libel bill from opposition claims that it is “anti-democratic.”
“You may call this a libel law, but I say it’s a law to promote the truth,” Netanyahu said Wednesday in a speech to the Knesset plenum. “Everyone has the right to investigate and broadcast, but no one has the right to slander.”
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The prime minister’s speech came after a discussion called by Kadima on “the Netanyahu government’s failures.” According to Knesset regulations, a prime minister is required to attend a plenum meeting at the request of 40 or more MKs, a rule that Kadima often invokes.
In reference to a bill that would increase the penalty for libel without proof of damage to NIS 300,000 from NIS 50,000, which passed in its first reading Monday, Netanyahu said “most of the public supports this amendment because today there is almost no defense.
“We don’t need to get carried away, it must be done in proportion, but at the same time, the court has the authority to punish slanderers, and that is the correct thing to do.”
Netanyahu mocked politicians and commentators who “talk about the death of democracy and how I am silencing them.”
“Here I am in the Knesset and the opposition is silent, afraid to say anything against the prime minister,” he said sarcastically, after he was interrupted dozens of times. “I turn on the radio in the morning, watch TV, read the paper, and everyone agrees with me.
“What are you talking about? The opposite is happening. No one seriously thinks that there’s going to be a ‘thought police,’” Netanyahu said.
“If one person deviates from the automatic criticism of the government, then you decide they’re against democracy?” he said. “No. We must have appropriate representation of most Israelis.”
The prime minister said the government is “taking proportionate, responsible action, which most citizens know must be done. When we’re finished, our democracy will be healthier and stronger.”
During the discussion, senior Kadima MKs accused Netanyahu of attempting to silence his opposition.
“The horrible world of George Orwell is becoming a reality under your rule,” MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said to Netanyahu. “You are forcing bills that are the foundations of oppression. 1984 is already here, and it’s awful.
“Netanyahu’s thought police, with his big brother [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and little brother [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak are eating away at the rule of law,” Mofaz added.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also criticized Netanyahu.
“You’ve already taken over the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and I hear that now you’re going for Army Radio and Educational Television,” she said.
“Slowly, slowly broadcasting hours are taken away from journalists that think and given to parrots that quote messages from your office.
“Don’t count on it, prime minister, it didn’t work for [former Italian prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi either. Anyway, there’s no reason for the public to pay for your messages, if their main carrier is handed out for free,” Livni stated, in reference to Israel HaYom.