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March 2024 in the Knesset: Attacks on Freedom of Expression

The trends of silencing, harm to media outlets and journalists, and the intention to silence citizens who criticize the regime are intensifying. A series of bills, reminiscent of those seen in oppressive regimes, are stacking up in Knesset committees. Arrests, deprivation of funds, and closure of media outlets include just some of the measures the government plans to take against its critics. The ACRI staff is committed to continuing to fight against these moves.

Amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Law 

The Anti-Terrorism Law includes a series of prohibitions aimed at eradicating terrorism and protecting state security. Article 24 of the law prohibits speech that supports a terrorist organization or act of terrorism, as well as incitement to an act of terrorism. In view of the importance of the right to freedom of expression, the article includes limitations and tests, the aim of which is to ensure the balance between freedom of expression and the protection of state and public security. Recently, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a series of private bills to amend Article 24, which seeks to change the balance in the law and disproportionately harm freedom of expression. 

  • Amendment to The Counter-Terrorism Law (Identification with the Perpetrator of a Terrorist Offense), 5723-2023 (P/3157/25), initiated by MK Zvi Sukkot, and the Amendment to Combating Terrorism (Prevention of Identification with a Terrorist Organization) Bill, 2024 (F/2227/25), initiated by MK Eliyahu Revivo.  Both of these bills propose abolishing the probability test prescribed by law. The test states that expression will be prohibited not only according to outrageous content, but also if there is a real probability that it will lead to an act of terrorism. In other words, if today there is a need to examine, in addition to the content of the statement, the circumstances,  timing and scope of the publication, the public atmosphere, and the identity and status of the speaker, if the law is passed, even a statement for which there is no danger that it will lead to an act of terrorism, will be prohibited and punished with imprisonment. Even implicit support for a particular organization accompanied by an explicit statement condemning attacks on civilians or the use of acts of terrorism will be considered a serious expression offense.   Where it stands: The deliberation on the two proposals has been consolidated, and they are being discussed in the Knesset Committee for Constitution, Law and Justice in preparation for a first reading.   

  • Amendment to The Counter-Terrorism Law (Incitement to Terrorism on social media) 2024(P/4345/25), initiated by MK Limor Son Har Melech.  This bill proposes changing the definition of "advertising" set out in the law to include "like" markings on social networks. This is a dangerous expansion of criminal prohibitions, potentially leading to imprisonment for a single action that does not amount to publicity. Additionally, the bill seeks to change the probability test and lower the bar, requiring proof of a "reasonable" probability rather than a "real" one that the statement will lead to the commission of an act of terrorism. This bill will also abolish the requirement that police obtain the consent of the Attorney General before initiating criminal proceedings for these expression offenses. Since distinguishing between permissible and prohibited statements requires legal expertise, removing judicial oversight of the police to prosecute these offenses may lead to an unprecedented attack on dissenting speech. ACRI is concerned that police freedom to prosecute crimes that include ‘liking’ content on social media will be used to silence dissent, particularly in Arab society.   Where it stands: The proposal was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on March 11, and passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on March 20. 

  • Amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Law (Offense of Identification with a Terrorist Organization and Compensation for Publication of Incitement to Terrorism), 5774-2023 (P/4138/25), initiated by MK Yitzhak Kreuze.  This bill proposes imposing liability in tort for publications prohibited by law, without proof of damage. This opens the door to silencing lawsuits that will be used against those who are critical of the government, leading to a chilling effect and a reduction in dissenting public discourse.  Where it stands: The proposal was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on February 28, 2024. 

Harm to media outlets 

  • Law for the Prevention of Foreign Broadcasting Harm to State Security (Temporary Order – Iron Swords), 5774-2024 (Informally referred to as the Al-Jazeera Law): This government bill grants the Prime Minister the authority to block broadcasts of a foreign media entity whose broadcasts endanger state security and to close its offices in Israel. Given the existing tools to prevent broadcasts that harm state security, it is evident that the purpose of the bill is not security but political, designed to silence media outlets whose messages are not favorable to the government.   Where it stands: The bill was passed by the Knesset on April 1st, 2024.

  • The Israeli Broadcasting Report (Annual Report to the Knesset Economic Committee), 5723-2023(P/3776/25), initiated by MK Ariel Kellner. This bill aims to increase government involvement in the broadcasting corporation's content and budget management, deepening political oversight of corporate content and undermining the free press.   Where it stands: The proposal was approved by the Ministerial Committee of Legislation on March 11, 2024, and passed a preliminary reading on March 20, 2024.  

Supervision and sanctions of teachers and schools 

  • The bill Prohibiting the Employment of Teachers and Denying Funding to Educational Institutions for Identification with an Act of Terrorism or a Terrorist Organization, 5774-2024 (P/2265/25), initiated by MK Zvika Fogel and Amit Halevi. This bill seeks to grant the Minister of Education and the Director General of the Ministry of Education broad authority to dismiss teachers, refuse or revoke teaching licenses, and suspend, cut, or deny budgets to schools through an administrative process, due to suspicion of identification with and support for terrorism. The bill additionally proposes using the Shin Bet as a means of monitoring teachers throughout the country.   ACRI's position: This bill aims to police school discourse and target teachers whose statements and worldview differ from those of the Ministry of Education heads, particularly in the Arab education system and East Jerusalem. They seek to intimidate teachers, marking them as targets for surveillance and persecution. These bills are harmful and unnecessary, as existing law provides the Ministry of Education with adequate tools to address negative influences on students.  Additional biased legislation seeks to undermine existing legal balances regarding expression offenses, severely violating the rights to expression, employment, and pedagogical autonomy of teachers and principals.  Where it stands: This proposal is under debate in the Education Committee in preparation for second and third readings. 


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