Worrisome legislation: Exposing wrongdoing

What are we afraid of?

New court rulings could have ramifications in Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
New court rulings could have ramifications in Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two recently proposed bills seem to be trying to censor those who would expose wrongdoing in Israeli society, rather than attempting to address the core issue of wrongdoing itself. One bill, introduced by Yisrael Beytenu’s Robert Ilatov, would ban photographing or filming soldiers without the IDF’s consent. According to Ilatov’s introduction to the bill, Israel has witnessed a worrying phenomenon of documentation of IDF soldiers for nefarious ends.
“Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment,” says the bill.
Of course, what determines undermining the spirit of the IDF soldiers and the residents of Israel is in the eyes of the beholder. Ilatov cites the “anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian” organizations Machshom Watch, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem (whose video of IDF soldier Elor Azariya exposed his shooting of a Palestinian terrorist who was lying on the ground) as the  main examples of attempts to sabotage the army’s efforts.
The other bill, proposed by Likud MK Miki Zohar seeks to make it illegal for the media to report on investigations of elected officials without the permission of the attorney-general. Zohar argued that without his bill, the media can “sully a politician’s good name without proof of guilt.”
As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov pointed out, the legislation is one in a series of proposals by Likud lawmakers that could help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he undergoes multiple investigations into alleged corruption. Among them is a bill that would outlaw investigations of a sitting prime minister and one that would stop the police from announcing its recommendations on whether to indict elected officials.
Israel has a lot to be proud of, so why do we need a knee-jerk attempt to protect its institutions or leaders by suppressing reports of their flaws, crimes or bad judgment?
The bills regarding investigations derives from an attempt to protect Netanyahu, whose allies blame the current probes against him on a witch-hunt by those who want to see him ousted from power. Whether there is basis to that claim or not, curbing the flow of information or banning investigations into sitting prime ministers seems like a desperate attempt to divert attention and throw an impenetrable net over the proceedings.
Checks and balances play a vital role in any democracy, and the duty of the citizen can’t be underestimated. One can disagree with B’Tselem’s agenda and tactics but still see the worth in their diligence that enabled the criminal act by Azariya to come to light. A “don’t see, don’t tell” policy is not a good foundation upon which to build a strong society. Rather than applauding, celebrating and supporting the efforts toward transparency, the proposed bills would take us to a dark place that would stifle the work of journalists, NGOs and citizens’ rights groups who aim to uncover the truth.
To be sure, there are plenty of narrow interests within the country – both on the Left and the Right – working against its welfare. But rather than blanket, draconian legislation that handcuffs the ability of the public to be aware of possible infractions of the law by the people and institutions who are supposed to represent it, a more measured approach is required – one that doesn’t treat every report which might expose wrongdoing by the army or the prime minister like an enemy invasion.
Although it’s unlikely that either Italov’s or Zohar’s bills will pass through all the parliamentary hurdles and become law, the mere fact that they are being proposed is cause for concern.
 We must remain vigilant against any efforts to chip away at our democratic values or to stop journalists and NGOs from doing their jobs, even when they dredge up dirt that makes us look bad. Israel constitutes a strong society that can confront its less-than-stellar elements with humility, self-reflection and reform. We don’t need legislation that takes away that opportunity.