US Jews say 'Boycott Law' hurts freedom of expression
LAST UPDATED: 07/13/2011 17:48
Negative feeling toward the measure seems to span the ideological spectrum, from J Street on the left to the ZOA on the right.
Peace Now demonstration against Boycott Bill Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
- Backers of a new Israeli law penalizing anyone who targets Israel or
West Bank settlements for boycotts tout it as a tool to fight back
against anti-Israel campaigns, but American Jewish organizations seem
remarkably united in deeming the measure an affront to freedom of
“We're disappointed that they passed the law,” said
Rabbi Steve Gutow, the director of the Jewish Council for Public
Affairs, the umbrella body for the Jewish public policy groups.
PM at Knesset: I approved 'Boycott Bill' into law
Anti-boycott bill becomes law after passing Knesset
don't support boycotts," he said, adding that "The law does challenge
democracy in a way, and hopefully the Supreme Court will respond.”
since 'Who is a Jew?' " has there been a controversy that could
seriously strain relations between Israel and American Jews, said one
pro-Israel heavyweight, referring to the early 1980s battle. "Oy! Who
The Knesset enacted the law late Monday night by a
vote of 47 to 38 after hours of fierce debate. The legislation,
initiated by Likud Knesset member Ze'ev Elkin, allows advocates of
boycotts against Israel or areas under its control to be sued for
monetary damages by those who are hurt by the boycotts. It also
prohibits the Israeli government from doing business with companies that
comply with such boycotts.
A number of liberal Israeli nongovernmental organizations and civil rights groups are mounting legal challenges to the law.
America, negative feeling toward the measure seems to span the
ideological spectrum, from J Street on the left to the Zionist
Organization of America on the right.
Morton Klein, the ZOA's president, said he was still examining the law, but that in principle the ZOA opposed anti-boycott laws.
was more appalled by the boycott of Ariel theater than me, but to make
it illegal? I don't think so," Klein told JTA, referring to calls by
some Israeli artists to boycott a performing arts center in the West
Bank settlement of Ariel.
Supporters of the law in Israel say it is a necessary counter measure to boycott efforts.
a principle of democracy that you don't shun a public you disagree with
by harming their livelihood,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said
during the debate on the bill, according to Ynet. “A boycott on a
certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of
The Anti-Defamation League, however, suggested in a
public statement that the legislation is not the appropriate way to
“To legally stifle calls to action -- however
abhorrent and detrimental they might be - is a disservice to Israeli
society,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director. “We hope
Israel’s Supreme Court will quickly take up a review of this law and
resolve the concerns it raises."
In an interview, Foxman
expressed concern that in any case, a degree of damage was done to
Israel by the law, even if the courts eventually quash it.
people who wanted it will say, `We introduced it, we argued for it, we
got it passed,’ and the people who think it's contrary to democracy will
have their victory in the court,” he said. “People are playing politics
with an issue that does Israel damage.”
Centrist American Jewish
groups in the past year have pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu’s government twice to contain what they perceived as damaging
hearings in the Knesset, one targeting human rights groups and the other
Joining the ADL in issuing statements condemning the
law were an array of dovish Jewish groups that included the New Israel
Fund, J Street and Americans for Peace Now.
“When you start to
persecute unpopular opinions, there really is no end point,” said Naomi
Paiss, a spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, fielding what it said was “not a
small amount” of calls seeking clarification on the matter, reflected
what appeared to be ambivalence on the law by Netanyahu, who was absent for the Knesset vote. The embassy was telling
those with queries, “This is a matter of controversy in Israel, and it
would appear that it will have to be heard by the High Court of Justice,
as in any democracy.”
The Obama administration was measured as well in responding to the law.
An administration official told JTA that the law was an internal matter,
but also pointed to democratic values shared by Israel and the United
States, including free speech.
The bill defines “boycott” as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural
or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of
his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area
under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or
academic damage,” according to a translation of the legislation provided
by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The legislation applies not only to boycotts targeting all of Israel but
also those aimed at “an area under its control” - meaning that Israelis
who support boycotting West Bank settlements would be vulnerable under
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