Knesset committee looks for ways to restrict access to Internet pornography

Session attended by less than a handful of MKs and more than 20 people involved in Internet content and services.

eyes of children (photo credit: )
eyes of children
(photo credit: )
Cognizant that the Internet will continue to have a major impact on all facets of life, and fearful of the potential dangers it poses, the Knesset Science and Technology Committee and religious Web site entrepreneurs on Tuesday suggested establishing an official "Stamp of Approval" for "suitable" sites and considered ways of blocking objectionable content. Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP) asked Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a Petah Tikva rabbi who heads Tzohar (an organization of modern Orthodox rabbis), to chair an advisory group on the issue. The group, which will also include Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who runs the Tzomet (Torah, Science and Technology) Institute, will convene heads of religious Web sites and portals to suggest ways to promote values on Internet sites and warn parents and children not to go into objectionable sites. The Knesset committee session was attended by less than a handful of MKs and more than 20 people involved in Internet content and services. It followed previous committee meetings on the Internet and the elderly. The impact of the World Wide Web on other groups will be discussed in future sessions, Orlev said. "The Internet has become a vital tool in Israel and abroad," he said. "It has become so popular that even MKs understand the need to establish their own Web sites, and my own was created just a few months ago to be in touch with the public and receive queries and requests." Orlev said the secular community had few limits regarding Internet usage, except to protect children, while the religiously observant were much more ambivalent and hesitant. "There are dilemmas," he said, "but there can be ways to help the religious to enjoy the Internet without it harming them." Rosen suggested that hi-tech Israeli companies that have many observant staffers, such as NDS, try to develop reliable means for the whole world to block out pornographic and other objectionable sites. Such technology, he said, would be very profitable. The heads of several popular religious Web sites, including Kipa, Moreshet, Da'at, Datili and Arutz 7, attended the meeting. According to a survey prepared by Knesset information staffers based on Central Bureau of Statistics Data, 85 percent of the Jewish population is connected to the Internet. Twenty-three percent of haredi Israelis are on-line, compared to 73.6% of the national religious, 83.1% of traditional Jews and 91.9% of secular Jews. According to Amiad Taub of Datili, the modern Orthodox (national religious) community is very open to the Internet, as it is mostly middle class or above, with husbands and wives working and having computers at their workplace. Setting up Web sites is very cheap, he said, and each site or portal appeals to a specific niche. Even synagogues and specific sub-groups in communities have their own Web sites to provide information and keep in touch, he added. Taub said it was impossible to censor Web sites from around the world and block access, as people who want pornography will always be able to find it. Instead, he advocated educating young people to avoid the dangers. Cherlow recommended that the Knesset promote positive values on the Internet by awarding prizes; encourage the establishment of wholesome sites and forums; promote a recognized, voluntary "Stamp of Approval" for sites that observe certain standards and rules; fight libel and the "evil tongue" in chat groups and forums; require that sites take responsibility for "talk-back" content; and encourage voluntary blockages of objectionable Web sites. Prof. Yehuda Eisenberg of the Da'at site advocated seals of approval for Web sites and praised the availability of a large number of Jewish texts for free on his site and others that made it less necessary to buy printed books. According to MK Ya'acov Cohen (United Torah Judaism), who said he had no Internet at home, on-line computing is "a dangerous tool" that has "created a revolution." He said he agreed with leading rabbis who outlaw its use unless people need it to make a living. Cohen advocated the passage of legislation that would bar minors from going into Internet cafes or other places with on-line computers.