Is Liberman’s call to boycott Wadi Ara legal?

The law against boycotts may apply to what Liberman says, but he has immunity.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avigdor Liberman
When Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called to boycott Arab businesses in the Wadi Ara area Sunday, he appeared to have opened himself up to some legal troubles. But he probably doesn’t need to be too concerned.
Israel has a law against boycotts, which allows victims to open civil suits against individuals or groups calling for boycotts against them if they can prove damages.
“In this law, ‘boycott on the state of Israel’ [means] intentionally avoiding an economic, cultural or economic connection with a person or other factor only because of their connection to the State of Israel, its institution or an area under its control, in order to harm it economically, culturally or academically,” the law reads.
Since Liberman is calling to economically harm residents of an area under Israeli control, Wadi Ara, his call seems to fall under the law’s purview, even if the law’s intention is to fight settlement boycotts and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
There is also currently a bill by Likud MK Yoav Kisch in the Knesset pipeline that would allow lawsuits against boycotts to not require proof of damage, but it has not yet gone to a first reading.
Nonetheless, though his comments seem to fall under the category of a prohibited call to boycott, he probably won’t face any personal consequences because of his immunity.
Parliamentary immunity shields lawmakers from legal action taken against them in response to the way they voted or expressed their opinion in speech or writing, or any actions they took as part of their job.
The same immunity has applied to ministers and deputy ministers, like Liberman, who are not members of Knesset since the passing of the 2015 “Mini-Norwegian Law” – a law that allows a minister or deputy minister to resign in order to make space for a new MK, but if the person who resigned is fired from or leaves the ministerial position then he or she may return to the Knesset and the replacement MK would have to leave.
Dr. Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute confirmed that Liberman has the same immunity as any other member of Knesset, meaning the boycott law would not work against him, but that there is also a different angle from which to tackle his comments.
“Immunity does not apply to cases of incitement to racism, which is a crime that was specifically exempted from the substantive immunity given to MKs and ministers,” Fuchs said. “In connection to Liberman’s statements, the matter stands before law enforcement authorities.”
The kinds of speech that are exempted from parliamentary immunity, if it is “not random,” are: “rejecting the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, rejecting the democratic character of the state, incitement to racism because of color or belonging to a race or national-ethnic origin, [and] support for armed combat by an enemy state or acts of terror against the State of Israel or against Jews or Arabs because they are Jews or Arabs, in Israel or abroad.”
However, the Supreme Court and Knesset Ethics Committee have usually given a very wide berth to MKs to make statements that some may consider to fall under those categories.
Meanwhile, Joint List MK Taleb Abu Arar called for the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership to meet to discuss Liberman’s statements and consider a class-action lawsuit against the minister.
Abu Arar said Liberman should “take personal responsibility for the burden of his declarations calling to formally and economically disconnect from residents of Wadi Ara.”
“He must pay the legal price for his hatred and calls of incitement against Arabs in Israel,” the MK added. in Wadi Ara following a stone-throwing incident there Saturday evening after a protest against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.