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Knesset Defeats Four Motions to Amend Israel’s Security Law

Israel’s Parliament defeated today in heated debate four motions to amend the state security law of 1957 which had been criticized by Israel’s Supreme Court as untenable.

By a vote of 48 to 39, the Knesset beat back the motions after Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion defended the law as required by Israel’s unique security situation. The Prime Minister cited an opinion by Attorney General Gideon Hausner in favor of the law.

The measure, under which Mapam leader Aharon Cohen was convicted for espionage, had been described by Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau as unreasonable.” The Justice had declared that “even concern for the security of the state cannot justify such a perversion of the accepted laws of evidence.”

Justice Landau, who expressed regret that the law obliged the high court to reject Cohen’s appeal from his conviction, had referred to provisions which require the accused person to disprove a presumption of guilt instead of putting the onus for proving guilt on the prosecution.

Opposition parties who fought to repeal or radically amend the law cited the court opinion. The Prime Minister countered with the opinion he obtained from the Attorney General. Before he read the opinion, the Prime Minister told the House that espionage was a most serious matter in Israel because vital information could reach hostile neighbors by way of friendly nations or innocent persons who meant no harm.

He then read the Attorney General’s opinion which said Justice Landau’s criticism was that of one judge and not of the court since Justice Zvi Berinson concurred in the dismissal of Cohen’s appeal and Judge Alfred Witkon, in holding for acquittal, did not raise the issue of the security law.

In sharp debate, the Prime Minister said he would not be “cowed” by the opinion of a Supreme Court judge since he was not a legislator, Menahem Beigin of the Herut party and Prof. Hans Klinghoffer of the Liberal party assailed the Prime Minister for accepting an opinion which took issue with a Supreme Court Justice, Beigin commented that the Supreme Court justices had no political ambitions but that the Attorney General might have them.

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