Forward Thinking

Why Is Israel's Boycott Law Different From America's?

By J.J. Goldberg

Given the widespread protests over Israel’s newly enacted anti-boycott laws, a great many friends of Israel are wondering aloud why the fuss — specifically, why is this law treyf while the anti-boycott measures passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 have not aroused all these protests? Why is this anti-boycott law different from all other anti-boycott laws?

The answer is one of those embarrassing points that’s elusive when you’re looking for it but glaringly obvious once you see it. The U.S. measures (officially known as the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act — detailed at this Department of Commerce website) prohibit compliance with official boycotts declared by foreign governments that contravene U.S. policy. The Israeli law prohibits advocacy of boycotts against certain Israeli entities.

In other words, the American version targets action, while the Israeli law targets speech. Outlawing speech, any speech (or writing or other public expression), except in the most extreme cases of immediate threat to human life, is one of the most fundamental no-nos in Western democratic human rights theory.

The types of boycotts targeted by the new Israeli law can include official boycotts of Israel by Arab governments, but in practice most of them will be private initiatives by Israeli individuals or organizations, since most outside foreign boycott advocates will be beyond the reach of Israeli courts; in any case, the backers of the new law have made it plain that mostly they are aiming at Israeli entities.

The most controversial part of the law is not advocacy of boycotts against Israel, but against the settlements. Opposition to Jewish/Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank — on grounds that they are impediments to a territorial compromise between Israel and a future Palestine — is quite widespread in Israel. In fact, it could be said to be the fundamental dividing line in Israel’s very divided body politic today. This law is an effort by one side in Israel’s main political debate to silence the other side. One may speak against the settlements (so far) but one may not do anything about it, however non-violent.

Boycotting an entity to express one’s opposition is an old and honored tradition in Western politics. Think of the boycotts by American liberals of California grapes, Coors beer and a host of other union-busting industries, or by American conservatives of Disney and Procter & Gamble for allowing same-sex partner benefits. Think of the recent effort by pro-Israel activists to target Delta Airlines for its agreement with Saudi Arabia. All of them perfectly legal, legitimate and respectable, whatever one thinks of the political issue behind the boycott.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Settlements, Saudi Arabia, Procter and Gamble, Jurassic Park, Human Rights Theory, Disney, Delta Airlines, Coors Beer, Boycott Law, Tenne Yogurt




Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.