15:32 GMT08 August 2020
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    An Israeli bill criminalizing the filming of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers passed a ministerial committee Sunday and will now make its way to the Israeli parliament, although it is expected to be revised before it becomes law.

    Initially, the bill would have punished photographers and videographers of IDF soldiers as having the intention of undermining spirit of IDF soldiers with five years behind bars, and 10 years for those who filmed with the intention to harm national security. 

    But such punishments would fall short of constitutional safeguards. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said the bill would not hold up to constitutional scrutiny in its current form and that it would not be supported by Israel's Supreme Court. He wrote a letter to the committee saying it "presents serious legal problems."

    Wednesday, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, will vote on the bill in its present form in a preliminary reading, which it is expected to pass. It'll then be completely rewritten by Knesset committees in order to make it withstand legal challenges. According to the Jerusalem Post, the maximum penalty will have to be reduced to three years in prison and the infraction itself will be changed to preventingor inhibiting the IDF from conducting its work.

    "Such documentation generally interferes with ongoing and operational duties, sometimes accompanied by insults shouted at [soldiers]," the bill currently reads.

    Nonetheless, the bill's sponsors hope to use it as a means of putting an end to the "free hand" of "left-wing organizations and activists, backed by foreign entities" to "videotape IDF soldiers while they fulfill their duty," Robert Ilatov, the head of the right-wing coalition that proposed the bill, told the Jerusalem Post.

    Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman took to Twitter to praise the committee that approved the original version of the bill, saying, "IDF soldiers are subjected to attacks from troublemakers and terror supporters who try to humiliate, shame and harm them. Put an end to this!"

    In the bill, several rights groups are explicitly named and accused of spending "entire days near Israeli soldiers waiting breathlessly for actions that can be documented in a slanted and one-sided way so that soldiers can be smeared."

    ​One of the organizations, B'Tselem, who published video sent to them of the extrajudicial killing of an incapacitated 21-year-old Palestinian by IDF soldier Elor Azaria in Hebron in 2016, balked at the legislation. "If the government finds the occupation too embarrassing to even be visibly documented, it should work to bring it to an end — not go after photographers," Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for the group, told the Washington Post.

    "Either way, the documentation of this reality will continue, regardless of this or other draconian pieces of legislation," Gilutz said.


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    Israel Defense Forces (IDF), B'Tselem, Palestine, Israel
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