Gush Shalom: Boycott Law ‘death' of freedom of expression

In petition to High Court, left-wing NGO calls for immediate overturning of new law; says law "violates basic principles of democracy."

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July 13, 2011 00:51
4 minute read.
The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.

Knesset session 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Minutes after the “Boycott Bill” passed, left-wing organizations expressed outrage at the new law, with Gush Shalom petitioning the High Court on Tuesday afternoon for it to be overturned.

The Boycott Law makes calling for a boycott of Israeli products a “civil wrong” and forbids the government from funding organizations that do so.

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Gush Shalom activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday evening that the Boycott Law is “a death sentence for the right to freedom of expression” and compared it with laws introduced in Germany in the 1930s.

“This law crosses the boundary between a democratic and a non- democratic society,” Avnery said.

In its petition, Gush Shalom describes boycotts as a legitimate tool for democratic discourse, referencing the Haredi boycott of non-kosher restaurants, Israel’s boycott on tourism to Turkey and the recent public boycott of cottage cheese.

The petition calls on the High Court to overturn the law, which they said will “silence any criticism of government policy in general and government policy in the occupied territories in particular.”

The law prevents “the open, productive political dialogue that constitutes the basis for the existence of democracy,” the petition said.

Avnery added that the petition said the Boycott Law will damage Israeli companies seeking to expand their business to overseas markets and prohibit companies from guaranteeing to overseas consumers that their goods are not produced in the West Bank.

“We are hopeful that the High Court will rule against the law, and save what is left of Israeli democracy,” Avnery said.

A coalition of Israeli left-wing NGOs also announced that they would challenge the law in the High Court.

“The new law seriously harms freedom of expression and freedom of association,” according to a statement released by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Adalah, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Coalition of Women for Peace.

“Moreover, it gives protection to the illegal West Bank settlements in Israeli law, by penalizing their opponents,” the statement read.

Hadas Ziv of Physicians for Human Rights said the law “signals a de jure annexation of the settlements in the West Bank,” in that it will “oblige individuals, companies and organizations to support the illegal settlements by doing business with them.”

A Peace Now spokesman said Monday was a “historical day in which the Knesset stopped representing the people and became the national thought police.

“It seems that the extreme right prefers to finish the argument over settlements through anti-democratic legislation,” Peace Now said.

Libby Lenkinski of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said Tuesday that the law sets a “dangerous precedent for limiting freedom of expression, which is not befitting of a democracy” and also vowed to petition the High Court.

On the right, NGO Monitor expressed concern that “this new law is not an appropriate framework, and will only polarize important discussions regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, rather than shed light or encourage informed criticism.”

“The answer to this challenge,” NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg said, “is not to curtail NGOs’ freedom of expression. Israel’s vibrant democracy does not merely survive criticism; it thrives and is improved by it.”

NGO Monitor added that the anti-boycott bill is “a response to the absence of basic policy changes among the European governments that are responsible for these processes” by funding left-wing organizations.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced his decision to defend the controversial new law even though he says it has "legal difficulties".

The High Court ordered the state Tuesday evening to respond within 60 days to the petition filed by Gush Shalom calling on the court to overturn the new law.

Several other Israeli left-wing NGOs, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights ­ Israel, Adalah, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Coalition of Women for Peace also announced that they would challenge the boycott law in the High Court.

Avnery slammed the attorney general's decision to defend the Boycott Law.

"Weinstein admits the law is problematic legally but behaves in a cowardly manner rather than bravely leading a legal process.  In his announcement that he will defend the law in the High Court he is abusing his office as one who is supposed to lead the country according to democratic values. He should refuse to defend the law, which the High Court is clearly not going to pass," Avnery said.


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