Israel targets anti-war dissent.
Demonstrators are beaten and arrested. So are journalists and activists.
Arabs are vulnerable. So are Jews.
Military solutions are prioritized. Opposition is called endangering national
security. Saying so bears no relation to reality. Israel claims might
justifies right. Police states operate that way.
Courts also silence criticism. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel
(ACRI) said so. Its new report is titled "The Silencer: Libel Litigation
as a Threat to Free Speech."
Israel targets social, political, and environmental activists. Bloggers
and social network users are endangered. Politicians, businessmen, and
other influential figures don't hesitate to sue.
Whether defamation occurred isn't important, said ACRI. Nor is compensation
sought. At issue is silencing criticism. ACRI's report explains. Its effect
on free expression is chilling.
In the 1970s and 80s, these type suits emerged in America. They followed
years of social activism. They're called SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against
Plaintiffs use them to silence, intimidate or punish. They're used against
outspoken individuals or groups. They target public activism.
Nine US states ban them. How effectively is at issue. Clever lawyers circumvent
legal provisions. They find ways to do so.
In the past decade, SLAPPs became more common in Israel. ACRI received
numerous complaints. Legal defenses are costly and time consuming.
SLAPPs are a strategic tool. They're used against employees "struggling
against exploitation and deprivation, demanding their rights, or attempting
to organize a union."
Enormous disparities exist between employers and employees. It's no fair
fight. Plaintiffs can bankrupt defendants in the process.
Activists, likeminded organizations and academics, alternative media,
and independent local politicians are vulnerable. So are consumers criticizing
faulty products. Quashing their efforts is prioritized.
Although many SLAPPs end inconclusively, they chill free expression. Defendants
need costly legal representation. Requiring it gets some to withdraw.
Some victories end up symbolic. Time and expense go for naught.
Two types of SLAPPs exist:
(1) Public interest
Some lawsuits follow participation in public discourse. Generally it reflects
something of common interest. It may be worker rights, pollution, taking
over public lands, or faulty products.
(2) Chilling effect: intimidation
SLAPPs by their nature are chilling. No one wants to be sued. Plaintiffs
consider "the likely damage to the public's willingness to participate
in public discourse whether the plaintiff's intentions are malicious or
Most SLAPPs reflect other characteristics:
Defamation: They're based on Anti-Defamation Law grounds
Economic power imbalances: Pitting ordinary people
against deep-pocketed interests assures fights wholly unfair.
Local disputes: the more local, the smaller the number
of people willing to influence public action.
Absurd claim amounts: some are unconnected to damage
Baseless, borderline or negligible suits: SLAPPs rest
on shaky grounds. Some courts reject them. At the same time, defendants
must enlist legal help.
Plaintiffs' refusal to accept an apology or correction.
Doing so ensures protracted legal war.
Warning and threatening letters: Sending them intimidates
enough to silence.
SLAPPs entail social costs. Free expression is chilled. Public activism
and discourse are discouraged. Doing so exacts a heavy price.
Democracy dies in shadows. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. SLAPPs deter
its effectiveness. They divert arguments from public space to courts.
Ordinary people are greatly disadvantaged.
Civil suits take years. They're financially and emotionally draining.
Defendants have a heavy cross to bear. Proceedings often end inconclusively.
Vital critiques are silenced.
According to ACRI attorney Avner Pinchuk:
"(W)e are witnessing libel claims with a weak or even outlandish basis,
yet which are an effective silencing measure against social and environmental
activists who speak on matters of public importance."
"Though the court seeks in the course of the trial to maintain a balance
between freedom of expression and the right to maintain oneís good name,
it fails to see the big picture."
Defense attorney Ishay Shneydor added:
"(S)uing for libel, or writing a letter threatening such a suit, is an
inexpensive procedure through which powerful forces succeed in deterring
civic participation, placing their critics in a defensive position and
preventing or dampening public dialogue on issues of importance."
"If we donít recognize this phenomenon and develop tools to deal with
it, then we are abandoning the public and strengthening those who have
the power to silence their opponents."
Haaretz addressed the issue. Its editorial headlined "Speak out against
It discussed a disturbing reality. Growing numbers of people fear "participat(ing)
in public discourse due to fear of being sued and becoming embroiled in
lengthy, expensive legal proceedings."
"This is a serious blow to the already fragile fabric of democratic life
in Israel." Many examples reflect what's ongoing. Mayors sue opposition
Social and environmental organizations are threatened. Consumers fear
complaining about faulty products.
Solutions require raising awareness. Protective laws need enacting. Israeli
ones "merely bolster the deterrent power of" SLAPPs.
Restoring free expression needs to be prioritized. It's too important
to lose. It's eroding because powerful interests target it.
Israel's most extremist government in history won't help. People are on
their own to demand better. It's their struggle to win or lose.