JERUSALEM (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday when he blocked a vote on a bill that would grant the government far-reaching power to remove or block content from social media sites.
The so-called Facebook Law would delete the content for reasons that include incitement to terrorism without criminal proceeding and without any admissible evidence. Along with Facebook, among the social media outlets that would be covered by the legislation are Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube and reddit.
Under the bill, a post that violated any section of Israel’s penal code could be removed after an administrative hearing that would not include a defendant or presentation of evidence.
According to Calcalist, Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement explaining that the law could lead to censorship of protected speech and was too broad to effectively be used as a tool for combating terror-related incitement.
The bill had stirred up intense opposition from civil rights advocates. The Israel Democracy Institute had said the bill would “effectively create censorship” and “harm political speech in this country tremendously.”
The president of the Israel Internet Association, Karine Nahon, welcomed Netanyahu’s decision.
“This was a draconian law that has been expanded far beyond what’s necessary,” Nahon said, adding that she was “glad that the prime minister recognizes its problems. They took an important issue of stopping online incitement of terrorism and expanded it to include all criminal activities. In effect, this would have allowed the state to take away our democratic right to express dissent.”
Israel’s security services frequently monitor Palestinians’ social media accounts and have arrested hundreds of people over the past several years for posts that they say constitute incitement to violence.