Forward Thinking

Knesset Outlaws Boycotts of Israel or Settlements

By J.J. Goldberg

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The Knesset gave final approval to the Boycott Bill after a stormy debate. Here is the Ynet.com report (in Hebrew). Here is the Jerusalem Post report (in English).

The final vote was 47 to 38, according to the Haaretz.com report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the debate or vote. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin was present but did not vote. Ehud Barak’s five-member Atzmaut caucus stayed away after informing the coalition that it could not support the legislation. Netanyahu was reported over the weekend to be considering putting off the vote by a week, after intellilgence affairs minister Dan Meridor warned that passing it on the same day that the Quartet foreign ministers were meeting in Washington would cause diplomatic damage. The Quartet is meeting today to discuss ways to prevent a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration at the United Nations this fall.

The bill outlaws economic, academic or cultural boycotts against Israel or Israeli institutions in Israel or in territories under Israeli control (that last in acknowledgment of the fact that according to Israeli law, the areas of Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank, are not within the State of Israel). Initiators of such boycotts are subject to civil damages that may be recovered by the target of the boycott, without connection to any actual financial damage that may have been incurred.

More from the Haaretz.com report:

Before the vote, the Knesset’s legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yanon, published a legal assessment saying parts of the law edge towards “illegality and perhaps beyond.” He went on to warn that the law “damages the core of freedom of expression in Israel.” Yanon’s assessment contradicts that of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who said the bill is legal.

The Peace Now movement announced Monday it opened a Facebook page calling for a boycott of products that come from the settlements. On Tuesday it plans to launch a national campaign, with the aim of convincing tens of thousands of people to support the boycott. Haaretz.com reports that the bill passed

Here is Haaretz’s editorial from earlier today about the implications of the bill:

This contemptible law blatantly violates Israel’s Basic Laws. It is couched in vague language: It defines “a boycott of the State of Israel” very broadly, while the definition of causing a boycott is fluid. Under the law, it would suffice for a call to boycott Israel to have “a reasonable possibility” of leading to an actual boycott for the lawbreaker (under the Torts Ordinance, New Version ) to be defined as having committed a civil offense. The lawbreaker would then be deprived of significant economic benefits and would also have to pay high compensation to those purportedly harmed by the boycott.

This vagueness is intentional, designed to conceal the goal of spreading a wide protective net over the settlements, whose products, activities and in fact very existence - which is controversial to begin with - are the main reason for the boycott initiatives, both domestic and foreign. The legislators are thereby trying to silence one of the most legitimate forms of democratic protest, and to restrict the freedom of expression and association of those who oppose the occupation and the settlers’ violence and want to protest against the government’s flawed order of priorities.


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