A troubling new piece of legislation spearheaded by Yisrael Beiteinu Faction Chairman Robert Illatov was approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee targeting NGOs monitoring the IDF, stipulating a five to ten year prison sentence for the distribution of video or audio footage of military activity. Almost like clockwork, the Attorney General’s office came out against the draft now being circulated, claiming it to be illegal. Following the Ministerial Committee vote and yesterday’s passage of a first reading, an agreement was struck to scrap the original wording in favor a milder version that reduces the maximum penalty to three years, removing the section about distributing footage and replacing it with the vaguely worded statement of “preventing the IDF from carrying out its orders.” In comparison to the clear-cut and ominous wording of the original, the milder version—and possibly even more so after multiple readings of the bill—seems nebulous to the point of meaning absolutely nothing, pointing to yet another attempt by the coalition to pass legislation that appears harsh, but carries little more than symbolic weight.The rationale in pushing for such a law at this particular moment, as in the past, stems from multiple factors, all of which should be familiar to us by now: fear of an impending election, tacking to the right to outflank other right-wing parties, and a coalition emboldened by the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The decision to create an initial draft likely to be rejected as highly problematic is also hardly an accident, nor is it coincidental. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies have, on more than one occasion, openly admitted that they hoped extreme legislation would be incapable of mustering the support of either key coalition allies or the Attorney General, forcing the current draft to be scrapped and replaced by something less likely to be attacked by the courts—in some cases, watering down the law to appear ostensibly threatening, but not much more. In this way, the coalition can, in one fell swoop, push for legislation popular on the right edge of its voting bloc, outrage the left, center, and international community, and blame the “treacherous” perennial boogeyman that is the judiciary. This strategy has been repeated many times over the last few years, leading to laws shorn of any real effect but big on symbolism. Meanwhile, the coalition gets to add one more strike against the High Court, slowly undermining its perceived status as a neutral arbiter of the law, and increasing the likelihood of future attempts to undermine the latter’s authority. This law is yet another in a line of self-defeating decisions by the right to attempt to muzzle criticism of the occupation in the hope that less opportunities to monitor and document the army’s transgressions will simply convince critics theirs’ is a lost cause. But as we have seen multiple times in the recent past, including Public Affairs and Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s publication of a BDS “blacklist,” the NGO transparency law targeting left-leaning organizations, and attacks on the judiciary, attempts to stifle debate (even ones, as mentioned above, that have far more bark than bite) do not endear Israeli policy to outsiders; they simply make them more skeptical to Israel’s intentions and push for more scrutiny of its actions. In addition to confirming the worst suspicions of anti-Israel partisans about the state of Israeli democracy, and arousing anger in relatively disinterested parties about freedom of expression and speech, such laws have other, unforeseen negative effects that should greatly disturb right-wing politicians. Lack of cooperation by Israeli authorities will simply create a vacuum to be filled by far less scrupulous organizations and media outlets, gleefully eager to give their version of events that are unlikely to take into account Israeli sensitives. Israeli refusal to cooperate in any manner with the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report following Operation Cast Lead in 2009, for example, led Judge Richard Goldstone, head of that commission inquiry, to exclaim that his findings would have likely been far less critical of the state’s conduct if the authorities had offered him the information he requested (and later received) in the first place. As has been displayed during the violence erupting on the Gaza border, too many on the right continue to believe controlling the narrative and offering a squeaky-clean account of what transpired will deter the mass of nosy bleeding-hearts and foreigners deemed implacably hostile to Israel. But even those not well-acquainted with the ins and outs of the conflict are astute enough to recognize when they are being force-fed information or outright propaganda, and they will likely view such attempts as an insult to their intelligence. However, it is also worth considering why even the idea of such laws have currency among segments of the population in the first place, a fact detractors on the left are often too quick to chalk up to some inherent jingoism on the part of the electorate. Repeatedly being called a Nazi and having the very legitimacy of one’s country called into question because of the actions of its government, regardless of how egregious one believes those actions to be, will wear on the nerves and tolerance of just about anyone. The siege mentality developed by many Israelis is undeniably frustrating, not least because right-wing politicians have made an art of exploiting citizens’ legitimate fears for years in the service of pushing forward undemocratic legislation or rabble-rousing against perceived foes. But the utilization of this paranoia is especially effective in the current hysterical environment. Many Israelis see the existence of hundreds of NGOs, both domestic and foreign operating within and without the Green Line, its confrontational media and its (sometimes) combative opposition, and begin to wonder perhaps, amid all the demonization, no matter what their country does, nothing is ever good enough and that it will always be considered a monstrous pariah. This may even lead, as noted above, to the perverse notion that the most effective way to deter such criticisms is to prevent them from happening in the first place. This is, of course, neither a justification nor a rationalization of such legislation; it should go without saying that any country worthy of calling itself a democracy must make peace with its external and internal critics. And however unpopular it may be to expose the face of the occupation, Israeli society has reaped no benefits by burying its head in the sand and denying its existence. But there is little doubt that attempts to isolate Israel on the world stage for its actions simply have the repeated effect of galvanizing the right and making many of its less savory goals more appealing to some people who have become dispirited. Despite its problematic nature, the legislation in question has yet to actually become a full-fledged law, and may yet be challenged in the courts in the event that it does. In the meantime, it may also very well be watered down in subsequent readings to the point of irrelevance. Nonetheless, those NGOs whose activity includes routine monitoring of the IDF have made clear that no law will act as a deterrent to prevent them from carrying out their work, regardless of the hypothetical punishment that awaits them. A secure and confident government does not willfully do damage to its country’s democratic foundations in the hope of placating its extremist constituents or trying to stave off criticism of its actions. Despite its unlikelihood, the coalition still has the opportunity to call off this wrong-headed and futile decision, however weak the final product.