Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, one of the court’s foremost champions of freedom of expression, will retire Monday, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Rivlin’s most recent defense of freedom of expression was his decision to overturn the conviction of journalist Ilana Dayan in a libel suit filed by an IDF officer known as Captain R. In 2006, he wrote a minority opinion arguing that another journalist, Amnon Dankner, should be acquitted of libel for calling right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir a Nazi. Freedom of expression, he wrote in that ruling, is “the mother of all freedoms,” situated in “the highest stratum of basic rights,” and essential to a functioning democracy.
Two years ago, Rivlin rejected an appeal by a practitioner of alternative medicine who had been besmirched by an anonymous web surfer and sought to force the Internet service provider to reveal his name so she could sue him. In this case, the justice ruled that the anonymity of web feedback sites should be protected because it furthered freedom of expression. “Anonymity is sometimes a condition for the very possibility of and willingness to express oneself,” he wrote. “And sometimes, anonymity is also part of the message.”
But it was his verdict in the Captain R. case, in which he was joined by justices Uzi Vogelman and Isaac Amit, that is considered the ultimate expression of his views on freedom of expression. That case involved a report by Dayan in which she accused R. of having “confirmed the kill” of a 13-year-old girl in Gaza. The Jerusalem District Court found Dayan guilty of libel, but the Supreme Court overturned this decision - though R. has since asked it to reconsider the case with an expanded panel of justices, and the court may yet decide to do so.
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