Harsher Punishments for Online Incitement?

At a discussion of democracy under war conditions, Attorney Shlomi Abramson introduces harsher punishment for online incitement and racism.

Yishai Karov, Cynthia Blank ,

Online incitement (illustrative)
Online incitement (illustrative)

Haifa University held a discussion Wednesday entitled "Democracy Under Conditions of War - Is the Cliff Strong?" 

The conference was attended by Shlomi Abramson, Esq. of the State Attorney's Office, who said "there is intention to significantly enforce harsher punishment against incitement on the Internet. Dozens of investigations have been opened and I submitted quite a few charges. What was is not what will be [in the future]."

He said he is aware of the argument that labeling internet usage as criminal could have a "chilling effect" - that is, people beginning to fear expressing themselves there, but he said, in his opinion, simply leaving the violent and racist discourse online is liable to plant fear and apprehension in people and prevent them from expressing themselves. 

Abramson said that the extent of exposure and the level of the expression will both be taken into account when deciding whether or not to open an investigation. The nature of the post will be a factor as well - whether it was an originating post or a comment.

Even the amount of racism in the remark will be taken into account. "The judgment of a person who expresses a remark in a racist manner once will different from someone who regularly and systematically posts racist comments meant to incite."

Additional criteria include "the amount of time the publication was out in cyber space - that is, whether the poster quickly regretted the remark and took it down - if the post was published in a moment of anger, if the post was an initial remark or a response to another comment. The responses to such a remark will influence the decision."

"If a racist remark will garner further racist comments, it will give reinforcement to the fact that the remark had an effect," he said. 

Former Supreme Court Justice and president of the Press Council, Dalia Dorner, also participated in the panel.

"We are in a difficult situation in terms of the amount of incitement in the public sphere, and especially in the virtual space. A racist statement is a racist statement and I do not think it necessary to explain the reasons for prosecuting....Racism is not freedom of speech - it is prohibited by law."