As punishment, the law would establish a five-year offense “for those who publish things that would deny the massacre or downplay its dimensions.”
In light of seemingly growing denials of the Hamas-led atrocities on October 7—in which over 240 mostly civilians were kidnapped, and over 1,200 were brutally raped, maimed, and murdered—a new bill presented to the Israeli Knesset seeks to punish would-be deniers with five years in prison.
But the broadly worded text is already raising red flags for defenders of free speech.
The text of the proposed law first establishes that “On October 7, Hamas terrorists and their aides committed a massacre of Israeli residents living near the border with the Gaza Strip.
In this framework, hundreds of civilians, men and women, girls and boys, were kidnapped. During the intrusion… Hamas terrorists slaughtered, murdered, dismembered, raped, and looted over 1,400 Israeli residents living near the border … just because they were Israelis and Jews.”
The bill goes on to explain, however, that the denial of these crimes constitutes an attempt to rewrite history and otherwise “hide, minimize, and facilitate the crimes committed against the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”
As punishment, the law would establish a five-year offense “for those who publish things that would deny the massacre or downplay its dimensions.” It would similarly slap offenders with a five-year term should they publish words of praise, sympathy, or identification with Hamas’ atrocities.
Bill has support from across the Israeli political spectrum
Knesset Member Oded Forer, from the opposition Yisrael Beytenu Party, introduced the bill. And despite concerns, it is already gaining support from a broad spectrum of lawmakers in both the coalition and opposition.
Responding to the bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Justice Minister Yariv Levin from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leading Likud Party reportedly stated that while he would have preferred a better phrasing within the text, the law “also contains a statement to the world – because we are fighting the phenomenon of denial—and therefore, our decision not to approve the bill would send a message exactly opposite of the message we should send.”
For this reason, it seems he will support the bill, along with members of Knesset from practically every party in government—including the Likud, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, the Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and opposition parties like Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu, and National Unity.
Still, serious concerns have been raised about the bill’s potentially abusive application and even its very necessity.
Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, the Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel [ACRI], tells The Media Line, “The criminalization of expressions should be preserved for extreme circumstances where there is a real and imminent threat, such as incitement to violence.
The denial of the massacre is regrettable and flagrant, but it is not one of those extreme cases.”
Additionally, pointing to the ambiguous wording, Gan-Mor says it would be difficult to predict how it would be enforced.
“For example, a person claiming that the response to the massacre is exaggerated, or attempting to show a historical context may find themselves investigated by the police for downplaying the dimensions of the massacre.”
Such laws have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, he says. “Dealing with these issues should be through arguments and education, not draconian laws,” he continues – particularly amidst the era of overexposure to fake news and misinformation on social media. “In Israel, there are quite a few people who deny the Nakba, for example,” says Gan-Mor.
Finally, seemingly adding credence to concerns is the fact that there is already a law on the books in Israel prohibiting identification with and support for terrorist acts.