One and a half years ago, University of Chicago student group Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) tacked flyers to announcement boards throughout campus advertising Israel as the only country in the Middle East where freedom of the press exists. But with Israeli journalists organizing emergency meetings to defend their right to free expression, what will CFI have to say now?
This Sunday, Israel’s top journalists gathered for an emergency conference in Tel Aviv to prepare responses to what can only be seen as an assault on free press. The downsizing and closure of Israeli media outlets has struck discord among Israeli media representatives, but the ultimate source of concern is an amendment to the current libel law that loosens the definition of slander to potentially include that which is considered critical of the government. The amendment has already been approved by a Knesset committee and is expected to be approved by the majority of the Knesset soon.
According to CFI’s flyer, “Israeli media, in both Hebrew and Arabic, can freely criticize the head of government without fear.” But Israel’s Channel 2 News anchor Yair Lapid says otherwise: “An incompetent government is silencing dissenting voices.”
Journalists in Israel see the Knesset’s latest move as an unjust and undignified ploy to stifle dissent by limiting reportage to news agencies, broadcasting companies, and state-run media outlets that are not critical of the government. The new bill guarantees harsher punishments for those accused of libeling the government administration, its representatives, its institutions, and its policies. In other words, no, Israeli media cannot freely criticize the head of government without fear.
So, CFI, what will it be? The flyer was shown to be inaccurate when it first went up and nothing has changed, save for the Knesset’s institutionalization of censorship. It is time to throw the propaganda away.