The Israeli government has proposed a law that would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison.
What does this proposed law tell us about how video footage of the Israeli army has impacted Israel’s reputation? Has Israel’s image as a nation that wants to ‘exist in peace with its neighbors’ been permanently damaged?
Though the Jewish state of Israel has had a turbulent and precarious history since its inception at the end of World War Two, it has nonetheless been able to maintain a relatively stable sense of ‘legitimacy’ in the Middle East over the last 70 years. Until lately.
No, the notion that Jews have a God-given right to create an independent Jewish state in Israel is not being significantly challenged, at least not yet. However, the ways and means by which Israel has been building and defending this state has recently come under much greater scrutiny. And public condemnation of Israeli policy and militant action is no longer spoken of in hushed tones, by people afraid of being labeled ‘anti-Semitic.’
Previously, with the support of the United States, Israel seemed to be able to galvanize a global narrative that they had the right, or at least the power, to do whatever they deemed necessary to maintain themselves. But that power, it seems, is slipping away.
A New Perception
American public opinion, including among many younger Jews, is increasingly opposed to Israel’s heavy-handed militancy against the Palestinian people. In fact, many Jewish-led protests in the United States are calling for an end to the ‘occupation,’ a characterization which was uncommon among American Jews in earlier times.
The United Nations, a body that always seemed to be beholden to the U.S./Israeli axis, recently voted to send an international war crimes probe to Gaza after the body’s leading human rights official slammed Israel’s reaction to protests along the border as “wholly disproportionate”.
And with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recent announcement that, “The security guarantee [of NATO] does not apply to Israel,” it seems like Israel’s actions are being overtly disapproved of on all fronts.
Increasing Evidence Against Israel
Much of the drop in support for Israel is as a result of a loss in Israel’s ability to maintain the perception of their chosen identity as a moderate state seeking peace and only using military force in self-defense.
As a result of technological advances, video evidence that contradicts this identity is a lot easier now to produce and proliferate. And it has proven impactful in the recent past. A video filmed by Israeli rights group B’Tselem in 2016 showing an Israeli soldier shooting to death an incapacitated Palestinian assailant drew international condemnation and led to the soldier’s conviction for manslaughter in a highly divisive trial.
Many other videos are out there showing Israeli soldiers to be brutal, disdainful, and inhumane. And Israel is desperate to stem the bad publicity.
Proposed Law To Ban Filming Of Soldiers
In what seems like the action of a brutal dictatorship, rather than of stewards of ‘a democratic state for all its citizens, Arab and Jew alike,’ Israel’s political leadership is trying to prevent its occupied brethren from even recording military action.
The proposed law, formulated by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison. The term would be raised to 10 years if the intention was to damage “national security”.
Of course, as you know, whenever a law cites ‘intent’ as the determining factor as to whether someone has committed a crime or not, it is not difficult for the group in power to designate ‘intent’ whenever they want.
The Usual Portrayal
Naturally, the government portrays Israel and their military as victims of Palestinian aggression, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying, “Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them. We will put an end to this.”
It is becoming clear that Israel has lost their cherished narrative and the world is beginning to see Israel as more of the source of conflict in the region rather than a victim of it. The victimization narrative has worn thin in world opinion, and the move to ban filming of soldiers’ activities is a sign of desperation. As Palestinians recognize video recording as one of their most potent weapons in the fight to show the world the truth about the occupation, is it possible that they are at times goading and provoking soldiers into taking imprudent action?
Perhaps. But the willingness for people to risk their lives in this way is likely founded on deep anger and desperation over brutality that has long been hidden behind a favorable perception Israel has been able to maintain for so many years.