Anti-Israel demonstrators march behind a banner of the BDS organization in Marseille, June 13..
(photo credit: GEORGES ROBERT / AFP)
In a huge blow to Israel, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders announced Thursday that calls to boycott the Jewish state fall within the limits of free speech, undermining intensive Israeli diplomatic efforts to sway European capitals to outlaw the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment Movement.
“Statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” Koenders said Thursday during a debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Dutch parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in The Hague.
He added that the Dutch government has explained to Israel that it opposes any boycott against it, but that BDS endorsement is a free speech issue. Sweden recently made a similar declaration.
His words came just two day after the State Comptroller charged Israel was losing the battle against BDS and delegitimization because of government disorganization and a lack of resources. Dutch Ambassador to Israel Gilles Beschoor Plug told The Jerusalem Post that Thursday’s decision did not reflect a change in government policy. “Supporting BDS by people in Holland is not illegal and therefore it falls within the limits of freedom,” the ambassador said.
Beschoor Plug said that despite the statement, Holland does not support BDS and does not believe it will help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A two-state solution, the ambassador said, would only be achieved through “dialogue and not isolation.”
“As long as what one says is not illegal you are free to say it,” Beschoor Plug reiterated.
But Koenders’ statement struck a chord in Jerusalem where the Foreign Ministry is in the midst of a massive legislative campaign to outlaw BDS throughout western parliaments. Jerusalem argues that BDS falls into the category of “hate speech”, pitching itself against international human rights organizations and left wing parliamentarians in Europe and other Western countries.
Israel’s position is based on the argument that by calling to divest and boycott Israel, BDS supporters are seeking the destruction of Israel. It believes therefore that it should be illegal.
Human rights organizations and left wing parliamentarians in turn are using European governments to affirm that BDS is protected by the laws of free speech.
The BDS movement wasted no time in declaring Koenders words a victory. Sarah Wilkonsin tweeted: “Israel who claims to be democratic, failed in their attempt to be undemocratic!”
In response to the Dutch move, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon lashed back and told The Post that there needed to be limits on the concept of freedom of speech.
“Once free speech becomes a pretext for allowing hate speech, then it is no longer legitimate,” Nachshon said.
“The statement of the Dutch Foreign Minister is puzzling and difficult to understand,” he added. “How can someone on the one hand be against hatred and boycott, but on the other hand justify people who advocate this hatred policy under the guise of freedom of speech?”