New Libel Law Studied in Israel; Knesset to Debate Issue Tomorrow

The Israel Cabinet empowered Premier Levi Eshkol today to name a public commission to study protests against Israel’s much-criticized new libel law. The Cabinet approved appointment of such a commission, to include a Supreme Court Justice and representatives of the Israel Bar Association and the Israel Journalists Association, which have strongly criticized some aspects of the new law. The commission was given the task of setting up another hearing for those who consider the law an infringement on freedom of expression.

In approving the proposal for a public commission, the Cabinet decided that the Government coalition would reject proposals for changes when Parliament meets in special session on the issue Wednesday. The special session was made mandatory by submission of a request signed by 30 members of Parliament representing the opposition Herut-Liberal bloc and Mapam. The coalition parties, including Mapai, Mizrachi and Achdut Avodah, are expected to vote against changes now, on grounds that the Cabinet has referred the issue to a committee.

The proposed amendments, developed by members of the Knesset (Parliament), in cooperation with the Journalists Association, aim to restore the right to report freely on public matters without being bound by the requirement in the new law that such comment be limited “to a suitable extent.” Another proposed amendment would eliminate a clause in the new law making publication of privileged matter, such as Knesset and court proceedings, subject to prosecution for libel if published more than three years after the event.

The libel law was passed on the last day of the present Knesset’s term, before it disbanded in advance of the November elections to choose a new Parliament. Criticism of the new libel law developed on a significant scale only afterward. The opposition parties acted to recall the Knesset in special session because it remains in office until the day of the first meeting of the new Knesset, following the elections.

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