Defamation Laws In Israel
As of 2011, it became possible to sue a newspaper for libel in Israel. Moreover, the change in law increased the maximum damages payable in libel claimn without proof of special damages, from NIS 50,000 (£8,500) to NIS 300,000 (£51,000).
Despite the seeming changes, Weinberg (2012) explained:
“Yet Israel is one of the loosest journalistic environments in the Western world. Journalist education is weak; the standard of professionalism of journalists is poor; the self-awareness of editors in terms of their responsibilities (both nationally and personally) and their legal obligations (such as avoiding libel) is low; sensationalist stories and gossip journalism get a lot of ink space and air time; tabloid-style “exposés” are highly-sought-after, and competition is fierce.
“Journalists back away from solid, stodgy, in-depth reporting, opting instead for cheap, hot (and often loosely-substantiated) reporting. Tantalizing and scintillating stories sell better than balanced and complex stories, unfortunately. So again: The libel law amendment is needed. It could motivate journalists to be a little more careful.”
Civil and Criminal Punishments
Currently, Israel defamation law categorizes libel and slander as both a civil wrong and a criminal misdemeanor. As explained by Fries:
“Israeli law presumes that every person has a good reputation, so that the plaintiff is entitled to compensation for general damages without having to prove special damages. This notion differs from that of American jurisprudence which presumes general damages only in cases of slander per se or libel per se.”
Israel Defamation Defenses
Aside from disproving a prima facie element of a plaintiff’s case, Israel defamation law recognizes three key defenses to defamation: (1) truth if the matter was of public interest; (2) publication in “good faith”; and (3) fair reports of official information.
Under the Defamation Law, truth by itself is no longer a full-proof defense against defamation. Under Section 14 of the Israel Defamation Law, a defendant must show a statement was true and it was in the “public interest.”
The defense of “good faith” can be used if: (a) the publication was made in good faith; and (2) it can be shown the circumstances of the publication conforms to one of the eleven categories enumerated in Section 16 of the Israeli Defamation Law. Relevant enumerations include:
- Lack of knowledge, without obligation, about the existence of the injured person;
- Absence of a legal, moral, or social obligation to make the publication;
- Fair opinion;
- Criticism; and
- Fair reporting.
Israel Defamation Law & Free Speech
Currently, Israeli law still fluctuates between the English and American approach to fair comment. Using the American approach, the Supreme Court of Israel assigns special weight to free speech, especially with regards to public matters and public offices, since those holding public positions have already assumed the risk of public scrutiny, as held in the case of Averni vs. Shapira, 43(iii) P.D. 840 (1989).
Using the English approach, the Supreme Court gives special weight to the protection of public officials’ reputation since allowing criticism of public officials “would tend to deter sensitive and honorable men from seeking public positions of trust and responsibility and leave them open to others who have no respect for their reputation,” as held in the case of Israel Electric Company. v. Ha’aretz, 32(iii) P.D. 337 (1978). Bottom line: Israeli precedent has made clear that fair comment is not a valid defense when the purpose of the publication is to defame rather than criticize.
Military Provisions Under Israeli Defamation Law
In 2013, the Israeli government passed a law that paves an easier path for military-related civil defamation lawsuits. After a movie critical of the Israeli military came out, government officials drafted a law making it easier for members of the armed forces to sue movie makers and private citizens who publish disparaging comments about actions associated with national security and military actions.
Internet Defamation In Israel
In April 2014, Israeli politician MK Revital Swid announced a new bill that would update the 1965 Defamation (Prohibition) Law to add Internet and digital communications. Currently, the country’s libel laws only apply to print media.