The anti-boycott legislation recently enacted by the Knesset has invoked a
firestorm of criticism from many, fulminating against such legislation as
inherently “undemocratic.” Allow me to present an alternative viewpoint, dealing
with the particulars of the case.
Declaring that boycotts, per se, are
illegal might be anti-democratic. However, the legislation in question does not
criminalize boycotts. Rather, it provides a balance, allowing those who reject
all (even indirect) contact with Israel to act as they see fit – so long as they
do not harm otherwise binding contracts between parties who think otherwise, by
inciting for their economic destruction and international sanction.
careful reading of the bill shows that it merely provides possible protection,
via the creation of a civil tort, for individuals and institutions
(governmental, cultural and academic) that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
(BDS) movement means to strangle economically – and most
Adherence to democratic principles neither demands nor
compels a democratic country to aid and abet all actions of those who
effectively deny it the right to self-defense and actively advocate for its
dissolution by any means short of armed assault. Moreover, those who would
squash others by economic means should hardly be heard to complain when their
intended victim chooses to withhold its economic support (in the form of tax
breaks, etc.) from them.
Israel’s refusal to support its detractors in
their declared efforts to undermine the country’s economy and blacklist all of
its academic and cultural institutions is eminently reasonable, and presents no
unfair surprise to those who have consistently exploited democratic rhetoric and
institutions in the service of undemocratic ends. It remains a mysterium
tremendum why those who would ostensibly utterly shun Israel’s government and
urge others to do likewise are suddenly upset that they are ineligible to
compete for that government’s tenders.
Any fair assessment of the
Anti-Boycott legislation must take into consideration relevant history and
context. The BDS movement is no phenomenon sui generis, springing out of thin
air. Those with a sense of regional history will recall the Arab boycotts of
Jewish and Zionist interests , that began well before the modern State of Israel
was recognized in 1948. Indeed, the Arab League boycott remains in effect today,
administered by the Damascus-based Central Boycott Office (CBO), a specialized
bureau of the League.
THE BDS campaign – like the Arab boycott – targets
not only Israel and its institutions, but also companies that do business in or
with Israel. A fair read of the BDS movement’s website reveals that its ultimate
goal, too, is the dismantling of the Jewish state – continuing the all-out
assault initiated by Arab armies in 1948 – via economic means. BDS now
constitutes at least as great a menace to Israel and all who associate with it –
and to the very notion of free trade – as the original Arab
Anti-Boycott legislation, used to effectively combat such
threats, is nothing new in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1977,
the US Congress passed legislation criminalizing cooperation with the Arab
boycott against Israel for American companies and individuals – and authorizing
the imposition of serious penalties against violators. The legislation Israel
has enacted is far less onerous for its opponents than the US legislation is for
Israel’s legislation – like America’s – appropriately
withholds governmental support from those who work toward its economic
destruction. The law also provides a mechanism for Israelis to defend themselves
from the (now) tortious interference with third-party contracts, when such
interference is premised solely on the contracting parties’ connection to
Israel, its institutions or areas under its control.
The wording of the
Anti-Boycott measure might be improved upon; surely the courts (which the BDS
campaign targets as institutions of Israel) will be called upon to interpret its
scope and meaning, over time. However, the basis of the law is sound.
sum up: A majority of the Knesset has now agreed that Israel will no longer be
complicit in engineering its own demise. The legislature has asserted its right
to re-level the economic playing field and provide the country’s professors,
farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs, hospitals and cultural institutions with some
mechanism for defending themselves against the tyranny of those who would wreak
commercial and social havoc upon them.
Moreover, this bill – crafted to
allow recourse via legal challenge of those who call trans-nationally for
trampling Israel’s freedoms and those of its trade partners – is not
undemocratic in nature.
Unlike the pernicious boycotts it is meant to
combat, this bill actually serves to promote and maintain democratic ideals,
such as freedom of association, economic substantive due process and – yes – the
free exchange of ideas.
The writer practiced law in Boston,
Massachusetts. He has served in leadership roles for a variety of Jewish
communal organizations and is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. The
writer recently took the Israeli Bar Exam, and lives in Efrat.