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Supreme Court Overturns Book Ban

Freedom of speech got a major boost from Israel’s High Court of Justice this week, when it ruled that the right to publish supersedes concerns for personal reputation.

The ruling, by Justice Aharon Barak, ended a year-long legal battle between journalist Arye Avneri and businessman-politician Avraham Shapira, a former Knesset member for the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party.

Barak overturned a Tel Aviv District Court decision to ban publication of a book by Avneri, titled “The Masters,” which purports to tell the story about Shapira.

The lower court had decided that Shapira would have to give his consent and was entitled to see a draft of the book prior to publication to scrutinize it for libel.

It had gone even further by demanding that Avneri submit the draft for the court to read.

But, said Barak in his 50-page ruling, “such a burden amounts to a sort of censorship which does not conform to the principles of freedom of speech.”

He wrote that a “system of legal bans will jeopardize the functioning of the press, the literature and other forms of expression.”

Moreover, Shapira, who owns the Carmel Carpet Corp., was ordered to pay the journalist $2,500 for legal expenses.

Shapira may now appeal the judgment before a five-judge panel of the High Court. If he does not, the case will be returned to the district court, where it will be treated as a libel suit.

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