Israeli Govt. Advances Bill to Prohibit “Consumption of Terrorist Materials”

The proposed amendment to the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Law is currently in the final stages of the legislative process. Adalah: this bill represents one of the most egregious attempts by the Israeli parliament, not only to restrict speech but also to police the thoughts of its citizens.

Today, 25 October 2023, the Knesset approved at a first reading a temporary order amending the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Law. The amendment introduces a new criminal offense, namely the “consumption of terrorist materials”, with a penalty of one year’s imprisonment. The bill received approval for the second and third (final) readings from the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on 6 November, and is currently awaiting the final reading in the Knesset plenum.


In response, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent an urgent letter to relevant Knesset committees, the legal advisors to these committees, the Legal Advisor to the Knesset and to the Attorney General. In the letter, Adalah demanded that they refrain from advancing the bill, on the ground that it introduces an overly-broad and arbitrary criminal offense that violates fundamental principles of criminal law, according to which individuals must not be penalized for thoughts or intentions. 


    CLICK HERE to read Adalah’s letter (Hebrew)


    CLICK HERE to read the bill (Hebrew)


The bill amends Article 24 of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law to include a new offense, specified as the “systematic and continuous consumption of specific publications of a terrorist organization”. This offense carries a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment. The “specific publications” referred to in the bill encompass expressions of praise, support, or encouragement of terrorist acts, as well as direct calls to commit a terrorist act. Additionally, the bill designates Hamas and ISIL (the Islamic State) as the terrorist organizations to which this offense applies.  It also grants the Minister of Justice - with the agreement of the Minister of Defense and the approval of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee - the authority to declare additional terrorist organizations for the purpose of this offense.


In the letter, Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany argued that the bill violates the fundamental principle of criminal law that thoughts alone cannot constitute a criminal offense, and that there can be no criminal liability without a minimal act (nullum crimen sine actu). In other words, there should be no punishment for matters that remain solely within one's thoughts and lack any observable, external, or behavioral expression. 


Adalah further argued that the law is overly-broad and ambiguous, since it fails to adequately define the term "consumption" or  the specific content that is criminalized when consumed.  This ambiguity echoes the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Law, which also includes a broad and vague definition of “act of terror”.


    CLICK HERE to read more about Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law


Adalah noted that the fact that the bill is being introduced as a temporary order with a two-year expiration does not remedy the fundamental violations it creates. For an individual brought to trial for such an  offense, it makes no difference whether the legislation is a permanent or temporary order. Furthermore, the Knesset has a well-established history of passing "temporary orders" that specifically target Palestinians, which it renews repeatedly on an annual basis, effectively making them permanent laws.


Finally, Adalah noted that the bill is draconian and would, by its very nature, require Israeli law enforcement agencies to employ intrusive surveillance tools in order to initiate a criminal investigation against an individual. It would consequently grant Israeli law enforcement authorities a free pass to violate privacy rights in an arbitrary and sweeping manner. This type of surveillance is characteristic of authoritarian regimes.


Adalah commented:


“Now, as Palestinian citizens face a severe crackdown on their freedom of speech for expressing dissent against Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, the Israeli Knesset is actively working to criminalize even passive social media use, where users merely observe content without engaging. This bill is one of the most egregious attempts by the Israeli parliament not only to restrict speech, but also to police the thoughts of citizens of Israel. Since its enactment in 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Law has been used to persecute and oppress Palestinian citizens of Israel. With every new amendment of this law, the Knesset introduces yet more oppressive policies that indicate a clear intention to target Palestinian citizens in particular.”