Knesset c'tee approves bill outlawing boycotts on Israel

Rotem says those who seek to harm country must be punished; Swaid: Boycotting ‘apartheid state’ is justified

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June 28, 2011 04:15
4 minute read.
David Rotem

Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

Knesset Members on the Right and Left argued on Monday over the merits of a bill to prevent boycotts against Israel, with the law’s opponents saying it limits free speech and freedom of assembly.

“The Bill to Prevent Harm to the State of Israel Through Boycotts” was approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for second and third (final) readings in the plenum – with eight in favor, and five opposed.

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Battling the boycotts

The bill makes publicly calling for a boycott that could harm Israel “economically, culturally or academically” a civil violation, which may carry a fine.

Additionally, anyone who calls for a boycott can be rejected from working for the state, and an organization that boycotts the state may not be considered a public institution for purposes of receiving state funding or tax breaks.

One of the MKs who proposed the bill, Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), explained that the original draft of the law called for boycotting Israel to be a criminal offense, but was asked to change the bill by the Justice Ministry.

In response, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said that the law “is built on an unstable base,” and may not be defendable in court. He predicted that many organizations would sue the state, should the law pass.

“Just as we limit the use of the terms ‘incitement to violence’ in laws in order to protect freedom of speech, we oppose legislating such sanctions, which limit freedom of occupation,” Nizri explained.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) asked if the law, which he called “insane,” would be applied to those who called for a cottage cheese boycott in the past few weeks, because it would harm Tnuva and the Israeli economy. Later Monday, in the plenum, Horowitz also mentioned haredi boycotts of stores that are open on Saturdays, asking if they, too, would be penalized.

Committee Chairman MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) explained that “the law will be applied to whoever encourages a boycott of Israel – including the Jews who live in the so-called occupied territories – meaning all of Israel.

“Whoever opposes this law doesn’t understand it,” Rotem added. “Anyone who tries to harm the state and its citizens should be stopped and punished. It’s odd that elected officials would help and encourage those who boycott Israel.”

MK Ya’acov Katz said that the bill is essential, because “the State of Israel needs to defend its Jews and prevent anti-Semitism.”

MK Hana Swaid (Hadash) said the law is “anti-democratic,” reflecting a trend in which democracy is breaking out in Arab countries, but declining in Israel.

“Israel is threatening people who want to take part in a nonviolent protest and harming their freedom of speech,” Swaid said.

Swaid also compared the boycott movement against Israel to the sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, saying that “Israel is breaking international law, and the world clearly thinks Israel needs to be sanctioned. This is a legitimate form of protest, which we should allow.”

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) added that the law silences political debate about “the most controversial topic in Israel in the last 40 years – the occupation,” and will only fuel the international deligitimization of Israel.

Labor leadership candidate and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee member MK Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post that the law is “adverse to Israel’s interest and fuels Israelhaters.”

“As someone who defends Israel all over the world, I find this law to be outrageous,” Herzog said. “The battle against boycotts should be dealt with in a different manner.”

“The greatest tool we have is our powerful, deeply rooted democracy. Anything that limits it will marginalize and harm Israel,” Herzog told the Post.

Professor Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor explained that boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) “are political warfare funded by huge amounts of money from outside of the country. Knesset members within the Zionist framework agree there’s a problem. It’s up to them as legislators to come up with an alternative,” he said to the Post. “This issue is important to Israelis.”

Steinberg said that, in his opinion, the bill is still a work in progress, and suggested to the committee that MKs opposing it present alternatives.

Herzog suggested that “innovative steps in the peace process” would stop the boycotts.

A representative of the Coalition of Women for Peace told the committee that “an end to the occupation” would end the phenomenon, to which Steinberg retorted: “You mean the 1948 occupation?”


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