Defamation Law: How it Works and How it is Evolving

Most people don't know exactly what defamation law is – but we're here to help. In Israel, defamation is defined in statute through Israel's Defamation (Prohibition) Law as:

“Anything the publication of which is likely (1) to degrade a person in the eyes of human beings or to make him the object of hatred, contempt or ridicule on their part; (2) to cause a person to be regarded with contempt for acts, conduct or characteristics imputed to him; (3) to injure a person in his office, whether a public office or any other office, or in his business, occupation or profession; (4) to cause a person to be regarded with contempt because of his origin or religion.”

So, once again, what is defamation? 

We can all think of situations in which someone has been “ridiculed” but are not the subject of defamation; teasing someone about their new haircut may certainly be considered "ridicule,"  but our common sense tells us this is not legal defamation! To understand the difference, we must look at how the law operates in practice and how it is applied. 

 

How does it work?

Defamation in Israel is actionable per se: victims do not have to prove damages, and it is therefore a strict liability offense. 

 

Israeli law recognizes three key defenses to defamation:

(1) Truth, if the matter was of public interest; 

(2) Publication in “good faith”; 

(3) Fair reports of official information.

What is the goal of defamation law? 

Fundamentally, defamation law in Israel seeks to strike a balance between two competing values: the right to free speech, and the protection of honor and reputation. Awarding damages is not meant to simply “repair” the injured party – after all, liability arises without the need to establish proof of damages. Instead, the purpose of awarding damages has a publicity component; it's meant to debunk the detrimental statement and to deter further defamation.

 

How is the law evolving?

In a recent 2020 ISC decision, it was held that sharing a defamatory post on social media may incur liability under the Israeli Anti-Defamation law. Merely “liking” a post, however, would not constitute defamation. 

In considering this issue, the first point of concern was whether a social media post qualifies as a “publication”. The court explained that the definition of “publication” under the law is interpreted broadly, and that social media falls under this classification.

The courts’ distinction between “sharing” a post and “liking” a post represents the ways in which the law aims to balance freedom of expression with a person's right to protection of their reputation and identity. “Sharing” a post, they held, presents the post to others who may not have seen it before, whereas “liking” a post does not have the same effect.

 

Each potential case of defamation has a unique set of facts requiring a nuanced interpretation of all relevant circumstances. Aviv Lazar & Co. offers cutting edge legal services relating to defamation, solidified by an established track record dealing with cases of this kind. 

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