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.RELATED:Proposed bill could allow expulsion of left-wing activists 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
“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.
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 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.”
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.
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
“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
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?”