Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found himself on the defensive Wednesday, as he was forced to fend off scathing criticism for the recent string of legislative acts promoted by the Coalition, most notably the controversial libel bill, which the Opposition claims will deal a virtual deathblow to democracy in Israel.
Netanyahu faced the plenum after the Opposition called a special session titled: "The political, social and economical failures of the Netanyahu government."
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The session was called over what many have called the "silencing amendment" to Israel's Defamation Law.
"No one has the right to slander," Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum. "This bill is meant to back the publication of the truth."
All in good measure. Netanyahu (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"The bill is intended to deal with anyone who makes statements that are untrue. Everyone has the right to broadcast, report and write – but no one has the right to slander.
"A person who has been wronged deserved to be compensated. This is not just a random decree by the Knesset – this is a ruling of the courts. The majority of the public supports this bill, because they know that such protection is nearly nonexistent.
"And I say – this amendment is necessary but there is no need to get carried away – all must be done in good measure," Netanyahu added.
If passed, the bill would loosen the criteria for slander and libel, and significantly raise the maximum damages paid for such violations.
Every case, the prime minister stressed, will be reviewed by the courts on its own merits. "The court will always have the final say.
"I hear your talk about the erosion of democracy, about silencing people. I come in here and see the Opposition MKs sit in silence – no one dares speak against the prime minister. They address him with all due respect," Netanyahu remarked sardonically.
"I turn on the radio and the TV and the newspapers and lo and behold – everyone agrees with the prime minister… We all know that nothing of a sort is happening here. No one really thinks we'll end up with a 'thought police.' No harm will come to our democracy – after all – this is what democracy is all about!
"We have been missing it for years. Israel's citizens are in great distress. This is why what we need is a moderate amendment, and when we go through with it we'll have a healthier, stronger and more just democracy," Netanyahu concluded.
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