A Palestinian journalists’ union has condemned as “racist” an Israeli bill that seeks to criminalise recording and photographing Israeli soldiers on duty.
The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) said in a statement on Saturday that the bill would “grant legitimacy to the Israeli occupation to commit more crimes.”
“[The bill] severely attacks the profession of the press and legitimises the criminal practices committed by the Israeli occupation army against Palestinian people.
“It is an attempt to escape punishment and international justice,” the statement added.
The bill was proposed to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Thursday and has been backed by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The proposed legislation, entitled the “Prohibition against photographing and documenting [Israeli army] soldiers”, criminalises photographing troops on duty.
“Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of [Israeli army] soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment,” says the bill, proposed by Robert Ilatov, a member of the Knesset and the chairman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party.
The bill’s explanatory notes said that Israel had “witnessed a worrying phenomenon of documentation of Israeli soldiers” for many years.
“This was done through video, stills, and audio recordings by anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian organisations such as B’Tselem, Machsom Watch Women, Breaking the Silence, and various BDS organisations.”
Ilatov said that it was time to end “this absurdity”.
“We have a responsibility to provide Israeli soldiers with optimal conditions for carrying out their duties, without having to worry about a leftist or organisation who might publish their picture to shame and disgrace them,” he said.
The bill was also criticised by the liberal Israeli Haaretz daily, which, in an editorial published Sunday, described it as causing “serious harm to freedom of the press and the public’s right to know.”
“The public has a right to know what the reality is and especially what the ‘people’s army’ is doing in its name and on its behalf,” the editorial said.
“That is why censorship can only be exercised in cases of serious danger to state security and not in an effort to head off criticism of the army.”
The PJS argued that if the bill is approved, it will grant legitimacy to the Israeli occupation to commit more crimes.
The group called on the United Nations and international press freedom institutions to “exert pressure on the occupying entity to comply with international laws and conventions, and to protect the freedom of press to document the truth.”