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Choosing between politics and journalism


Defamation Law was my turning point
Uri Avnery Social activist
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We reached a turning point. As I have already mentioned, the Defamation Law, the original and most severe version, was written by Haim Cohen when he was Attorney General during the Ben-Gurion government. It was so severe that it was shelved. I think even the official press acted against it and it was archived. Ben-Gurion was deposed in 1963. In 1964 or the beginning of 1965, the Defamation Law suddenly reappeared. Somewhat more moderate, but not much. It was a monstrous law in several respects. First of all, it was unequivocally directed against HaOlam HaZeh. How can one know? One section of the law says: who has criminal and civil responsibility for publishing libelous information, defamation? There is a list: the Editor-in-Chief, the Editor, the Section Editors so on and so forth, the printer, the distributor, everything. And among this list is 'the Head of the Editorial Board'.  Now, Head of the Editorial Board did not exist anywhere else except at HaOlam HaZeh because my friend Shalom Cohen was supposed to have helped finance HaOlam HaZeh when we bought it, so I didn't want him to be Deputy Editor, as this was not a prestigious enough position. So I invented the title Head of the Editorial Board. So it was really a very clear indication that the Defamation Law was directed against HaOlam HaZeh. All of the defences that were available in a normal defamation law…  defamation law in Israel was the British Defamation Law which is severe, much more severe than the US Law of Defamation, for example. But it was nothing compared to that. There was such a degree of severity that it really became almost impossible to defend against it. And it suddenly surfaced, and it advanced, step by step. I decided if it will pass legislation, I would establish a list for the Knesset.

מגיעים למפנה. כמו שכבר הזכרתי, חוק לשון הרע, הנוסח המקורי והכי חמור נוסח על ידי חיים כהן, כאשר חיים כהן היה היועץ המשפטי לממשלה בתקופת בן גוריון. והוא היה כל כך חמור, שנגנז. שאני חושב שאפילו העיתונות הרשמית פעלה נגד זה וזה נגנז. בן גוריון הודח ב-1963. ב-1964 או התחלת 1965 פתאום זה צץ מחדש, חוק לשון הרע. קצת יותר מתון, אבל לא הרבה. וזה היה חוק מפלצתי מכמה וכמה בחינות. קודם כל הוא היה מכוון נגד "העולם הזה" בצורה חד-משמעית. איך יודעים? באחד מסעיפי החוק הוא אומר: למי האחריות הפלילית והאזרחית על פרסום דברי דיבה? דברי לשון הרע? יש רשימה: העורך הראשי, העורך, עורכי מדורים –טה-טה-טה-טה-טה, המדפיס, המפיץ, הכל. ובין כל הרשימה הזאת ״ראש מערכת״. עכשיו, ראש מערכת לא היה קיים דבר כזה חוץ מב"העולם הזה”. מפני ששלום כהן היה חבר שלי, וגם היה אמור להשתתף במימון ״העולם הזה״ כשקנינו אותו, אז לא רציתי שהוא יהיה סגן עורך, זה לא מספיק מכובד. אז המצאתי את התואר "ראש מערכת”. אז זה היה ממש חותמת שזה מכוון נגד "העולם הזה". כל ההגנות שיש בחוק דיבה נורמלי… חוק הדיבה בארץ היה חוק הדיבה הבריטי שהוא חמור, הרבה יותר חמור מחוקי דיבה בארה"ב למשל. אבל זה היה כלום בהשוואה לזה. יש שם חומרות שממש הפכו את ההגנה כמעט לבלתי אפשרית. וזה עלה פתאום, וזה התקדם, שלב אחרי שלב. ואני החלטתי: אם זה יחוקק, אני אקים רשימה לכנסת.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: HaOlam HaZeh, Knesset, Haim Cohen, Shalom Cohen, David Ben-Gurion

Duration: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 11 May 2017