Israeli bill seeks to ban photographing soldiers

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Cabinet ministers have proposed legislation that seeks to outlaw photographing Israeli soldiers “for the sake of shaming them,” a ban rights groups say would amount to government censorship.

Facing criticism and questions about the proposal’s legality, the government already appeared to be taking steps to water down the bill before it goes to a parliamentary vote. But rights groups said that even preliminary support for the legislation was a stain on the country’s democracy.

A ministerial committee, headed by Israel’s justice minister, approved the proposal on Sunday. It says anyone “who films, photographs or records soldiers while performing their duty, with the intent of undermining the morale of Israeli soldiers and residents” or anyone who disseminates such materials, would face five years in prison.

The bill appears to have been promoted by the filming of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria fatally shooting an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron who was lying on the ground in March 2016. Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and served nine months of an 18-month prison sentence.

The case bitterly divided the nation. Israel’s military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics. But many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.

The bill’s sponsor, Robert Ilatov of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, wrote on Facebook last week that the bill’s aim is to prevent “left wing organizations from disseminating (soldiers’) pictures for the sake of shaming them.”

The text of the bill specifically mentions B’Tselem, Machsom Watch and Breaking the Silence — Israeli advocacy groups critical of the West Bank occupation — as “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian” organizations whose activity documenting the Israeli military the legislation seeks to combat.

The bill is the latest in a series of legal measures passed or proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist government to curb organizations critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

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