Knesset session 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On Monday night, as the Knesset held its shrill debate on the so-called “Boycott
Law,” the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra held in Tel-Aviv what was described by
the critics as a magical performance of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder.
mentioning these two events in a single sentence not just because of the
contrast in harmony, but because one of the performers in the concert – actor
Itai Tiran – has been publicly boycotted by certain circles due to his failure
to serve in the IDF. Under the new law, Tiran cannot sue for damages, since he
is neither the State of Israel, nor one of its institutions, nor a territory
under its control. However, Tiran may now be sued for damages by the town of
Ariel, since he was one of the actors who declared that they would not perform
in its municipal auditorium.
Anyone who might now decide to sue him will
not even have to prove that real damage was caused.
There are boycotts by
haredi circles against supermarket chains that are open on Saturday or that sell
non-kosher products. There are boycotts by certain national-religious circles
against stores that employ Arabs, or against those who rent or sell apartments
to Arabs. There are boycotts by self-acclaimed patriots against non-religious
persons who did not serve in the IDF (without always checking why these persons
failed to serve). Most recently we had the cottage cheese boycott. There are
boycotts by left-wing groups against products manufactured in Jewish settlements
in Judea and Samaria.
However, the new law singles out only the last
category (among the boycotts not directed against the State of Israel as such)
as a punishable tort. This is objectionable, not only because it manifests
inequality, but because it suggests that one side of the legitimate debate on
the future of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is limited in the legal
means it may use. Alternatively we might conclude that the government of “the
only democracy in the Middle East” does not recognize the legitimacy of the
THINGS COULD, however, have been much worse. The original version
of the bill proposed that boycotts of the State of Israel and territories under
its control be considered a criminal offense. The original bill also suggested
extreme measures to be taken against foreign citizens and states engaged in such
boycotts. At least the ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, and
Industry, Trade and Labor did their utmost to modify the provisions of the law
and limit its negative effects, despite the state attorney’s indicating that
even in its present form, its constitutionality is marginal, and the legal
adviser to the Knesset’s questioning its actual legality (though he added that
he would defend it in court if necessary).
During the Knesset debate on
Monday night, MK Einat Wilf spoke on behalf of Ehud Barak’s Independence
Faction, which as a member of the coalition was unable to vote against the law
due to coalition discipline, even though it objected to it. Wilf was the only
member of Independence to attend the debate, but refrained from
In what was probably one of the most balanced speeches that
evening, she explained that her objection to the law was based on its
disproportionality, its contribution to a problematic public atmosphere, and its
interference with the freedom of speech. However, she added that the issue
should be decided on the merits of the provisions of the law, and not on the
fact that the new law was likely to further damage Israel’s image in the world,
and that the High Court of Justice was likely to declare it
She also rejected the argument that the law posed a
real threat to Israeli democracy, but pointed out with regret that the voice of
“sane Zionism” was losing ground to an extreme and aggressive Right, which was
trying to defeat its opponents by means of legislation, and to a post-Zionist
Left which had adopted a narrative that distorts historical facts and besmirches
the State of Israel.
All in all, it is a shame that this law came into
the world, and that so much time and effort were invested in it. It will not
promote understanding within Israeli society. It will not change the minds of
those who object to Israel’s continued presence in the territories.
will not prevent the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. It will not stop
foreign economic and cultural boycotts of Israel in general and of the
territories in particular, and it will make Israel’s struggle to gain
international support for its positions all the more difficult.The
writer is a former Knesset employee.