Under the bill, which is being forwarded by the socially conservative Shas party, Israeli Internet users who wanted to access pornography would have to request that such access be activated by their ISP, and to prove they are adults.
“Instead of parents having to actively block their children from viewing hardcore pornography and violence, pornography enthusiasts will have to be active and make a single phone call,” said MK Amnon Cohen, the Shas member who authored the bill.
Without such a request, the default for Israeli ISPs would be to block access to all such sites. Critics charged that the bill would put Israel in the company of repressive regimes around the globe that extensively block Internet content.
“The law will transform us into a type of Iran by giving the minister the authority to decide that the Shas Council of Torah Sages will determine the sites to be rejected and blocked, without any supervision or monitoring of its considerations by the Knesset,” said Gilad Erdan a Knesset member from the Likud party.
Communications Minister Ariel Attias, a Shas party member, rejected the notion that the bill constitutes a censorship effort, and vigorously defended the measure.
“We live in a democracy,” Attias said in a radio interview. “Anybody who wants full Internet access can get it. We are just trying to protect our children from the sex and violence available on the Internet.”
Attias cited a recent survey stating that 60 percent of minors said they had been exposed to pornography on the Internet, and that 40 percent of minors admitted they had supplied personal information about themselves to strangers via the Internet.
“These data are disturbing, and we decided to do something about it,” Attias said.
Dov Henin of the Hadash party asserted that the bill represented an improper transfer of responsibility from parents to the Israeli government.
“If parents don’t want their children to view certain Internet sites, they should intervene and stop them,” Henin said, adding that the bill would give parents a false sense of security, because the most dangerous sites for children are chat rooms, which would not be blocked under the bill.
The head of Israel’s National Council for the Child, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, said he is opposed to the bill, and warned its supporters that the “present wording of the bill would cause a scare among liberal-minded Israelis who do not want the state to tell them what to do.
“I propose that Internet suppliers be obligated to provide parents with a variety of Internet filters free of charge,” Kadman said. “And if the parents choose to block content, they can do so in accordance with their sensibilities. But I oppose a centrally controlled censorship of the Internet.”
Legal advisors to the Knesset reportedly have said that it is unlikely that the bill would pass the scrutiny of Israel’s High Court of Justice, largely due to the fact that the bill supplies no list or clear definition of the “harmful” sites that would be blocked. The bill is expected to pass, however, as it currently enjoys the full support of the Knesset’s governing coalition, which is comprised of the Kadima, Labor, Shas and Gil parties.
The next stop for the bill is a return to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, after which it would be brought back to the full Knesset for final approval — a process that could take months to complete.