(NEW YORK) — In response to a pending Israeli Knesset bill criminalizing speech denying or downplaying the October 7 Hamas terror attack amid a broader campaign of arrests for “incitement” in the country, PEN America issued the following statement:

“Israeli lawmakers must step back from broadening an already concerning campaign against free expression in Israel. Denial of the October 7 atrocities is heinous, but the response cannot be to enact legislative restrictions on speech. The vague language of the law risks making a range of speech illegal, and casting a broad chilling effect on expression. A democratic country must make room for individuals to voice their political opinions, even if they are considered incendiary or baseless. The Israeli government should not let this law pass, and Israeli authorities must stop censoring social media and restricting peaceful expression, including book events and protests.”

Israel’s Knesset on Wednesday, February 7, approved in preliminary reading a draft bill, “Prohibition on Denial of the October 7 Massacre.” The bill would punish anyone who “publishes statements denying the October 7 massacre or diminishing its scale,” as well as anyone who “publishes statements of praise, sympathy or identification with the aforesaid actions” to five years imprisonment, according to the Knesset’s press release. Israeli lawmakers reportedly modeled the law on legislation criminalizing Holocaust denial, but Israeli civil rights activists have warned that the bill would chill free expression and do little to stem misinformation related to the ongoing violence. The bill comes in the context of Israeli authorities having detained scores of people for expressing solidarity with Palestine or calling for a ceasefire under the guise of “incitement.”

Israeli authorities’ crackdown on free expression has also included a literary event focused on work published outside the country. On February 7, in response to public pressure, including from the families of victims of a 2003 deadly Hamas attack in the area, municipal authorities in Haifa announced that they had indefinitely postponed the planned launch of the Hebrew translation of Colum McCann’s novel Apeirogon. The event had been scheduled to take place at Beit Hagefen, a cultural center aiming to bring Palestinians and Israelis together and that operates in a city-owned building. City authorities said the event was canceled in coordination with Beit Hagefen, but added in the same announcement that they were also investigating the center’s activities over the past several months. The government didn’t specify the reason for the investigation. The book event ultimately took place at a different venue, although the Palestinian father featured in the book was barred from traveling to Haifa from the West Bank to attend.  

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] tel. +1 310 699 8775