An Israeli policewoman detains a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who is wearing a black dress

Israeli police detain a demonstrator who was participating in a vigil against the earlier arrests of some of leaders of the Arab-Israeli community, outside the Tel Aviv district police station on November 9, 2023.

(Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Accused of 'Thought Policing' as Legislation Criminalizes Viewing Pro-Palestinian Media

Arab citizens of Israel "are now criminalized for simply sitting in their homes following the news on Gaza," lamented one professor.

Human rights and free speech advocates on Thursday decried Israeli lawmakers' passage of legislation criminalizing the viewing of social and other media supportive of the Palestinian resistance struggle.

Knesset lawmakers voted 13-4 to amend Article 24 of Israel's Counterterrorism Law—which prohibits "demonstrating identification with a terrorist organization and incitement to terrorism"—to include a temporary two-year ban on "systematic and continuous consumption of publications of a terrorist organization under circumstances that indicate identification with the terrorist organization."

The amendment identifies Hamas and Islamic State as terrorist groups and allows the Ministry of Justice to add more organizations to the list.

Offenders face up to one year behind bars. Videos posted on social media Thursday showed Israeli police at the home of an Arab Israeli woman informing her she was being arrested for allegedly "sharing content that sympathizes with and encourages terrorist actions... and supporting content that incites violence and terrorism."

Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said in a statement that "this law is one of the most intrusive and draconian legislative measures ever passed by the Israeli Knesset, since it makes thoughts subject to criminal punishment" and "violates the constitutional right to freedom of speech and is used to muzzle legitimate political expression."

Adalah continued:

At a time when Israeli authorities are ramping up their campaign to stifle the freedom of expression of Palestinian citizens of Israel, conducting extensive surveillance of their online communications, and making unprecedented arrests for alleged speech-related offenses, the Israeli Knesset has enacted legislation that criminalizes even passive social media use. This legislation encroaches upon the sacred realm of an individual's personal thoughts and beliefs and significantly amplifies state surveillance of social media use. Adalah will petition the Supreme Court to challenge this law.

The New Israel Fund (NIF), a U.S.-based progressive advocacy group, called the amendment "dangerous" and "driven by far-right extremists intent on taking Israel backward."

NIF warned that "at a time when dissent is being crushed all over Israel, this law seeks to further silence any internal critics."

The group said the Counterterrorism Law already "has a history of discriminatory use" and "includes extremely blurry concepts" that "if read broadly could include... the entirety of Palestinian society."

Israel's Counterterrorism Law is rooted in the 1945 Emergency Rules enacted by British rulers of what was then called Mandatory Palestine amid a yearslong wave of terrorist attacks by Jewish militant groups targeting U.K. officials, British and Arab civilians, and even a ship full of Holocaust refugees. Many of its provisions remain in place today.

Even before the current war on Gaza, Israel's government faced international condemnation for designating humanitarian groups as "terrorist organizations."

In a joint statement, far-right Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the amendment "will strengthen the administrative measures that can be used against the terrorist organizations and terrorist operatives, and will enable a more effective suppression of channels of recruitment, financing, and transfer of funds for terrorist purposes."

The 1.2 million Arab citizens of Israel are the descendants of the approximately 150,000 Palestinians allowed to remain in the country following the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 of their compatriots during the foundation of the modern Israeli state. Although they officially enjoy equal rights under the law, human rights defenders in Israel and around the world say Arab Israelis live as second-class citizens due to structural discrimination.

Since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel last month that killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers, Palestinian citizens of Israel have faced a sweeping campaign of arrests for defending resistance against Israeli crimes including occupation, settler colonization, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and a war in which Israeli forces have now killed over 10,800 people, while displacing 70% of the population of Gaza and obliterating much of the strip.

Many Arab Israelis have been fired from their jobs and face societywide attacks on freedom of speech and association. There is also widespread police harassment and intimidation, including arrests for protesting what even Israeli scholars are calling the "genocide" in Gaza.

Since October 7, more than 100 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested for social media posts, including well-known singer and influencer Dalal Abu Amneh, who was accused of "incitement" for expressing online solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Critics say no one is immune from the Israeli crackdown on free speech, pointing to Thursday's arrest of former Knesset lawmakers for holding a peace vigil in Nazareth.

"Arresting Arab leaders is an alarming escalation by the government, revealing a perilous disregard for the entire Arab community," the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said on social media. "The police unjustly interfered with a protest vigil in Nazareth, violating freedom of expression and acting irresponsibly against the law."

"The past month represents an unprecedented juncture in the government's relationship with Arab society," the group added. "Despite the responsible leadership demonstrated within the Arab community, the minister of national security takes every measure to sow incitement and division."

Ironically, that minister—Itamar Ben-Gvir of the far-right Jewish Power party—was convicted in 2007 by an Israeli court of inciting racism and supporting terrorism.

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