The bad boycott bill

Attempts to legitimize Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem through the stifling of criticism may just achieve the opposite.

Zeev Elkin 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Zeev Elkin 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
MK Ze’ev Elkin was correct back in March to point out – after the Knesset plenum in a first reading ratified his government-backed “Boycott Bill” – the “absurdity” in Israelis supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Seemingly out of touch with mainstream Israeli society and oblivious to the many attempts consecutive Israeli governments have made over the past three decades to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian people, these pro- BDS activists insist on using economic pressure to bully Israel into caving in to Palestinian demands. It’s as if there never was a wave of Palestinian terrorism targeting Israeli civilians in the wake of the Oslo Accords, a bloody second intifada complete with suicide bombings orchestrated by Yasser Arafat and carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in response to prime minister Ehud Barak's far-reaching 2000 Camp David concessions, a barrage of Hamas-initiated mortar fire and Kassam missiles after the 2005 Gaza pullout, a 2006 Palestinian election that brought to power Hamas – a terrorist organization whose charter includes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – and a recent reconciliation between that Islamist organization and the “moderate” Fatah.
Israeli proponents of BDS expect our government to end the “occupation” by simply giving in to all Palestinian demands – including, apparently, the “right of return” for millions of Palestinian “refugees” – and ceding all territory beyond the 1949 armistice lines after its made judenrein of over a half million Israeli citizens to form a 22nd Arab state that could easily be overrun in the near future by Hamas or some other anti-Semitic terrorist group bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. According to this crooked reasoning, Israel should also be muscled – via BDS – into giving back the Golan Heights to Syria, a country led by a ruthless autocrat who has been butchering his own people and has fostered close ties with violent and powerful Shi’ite fundamentalists in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and in Iran.
Elkin’s bill, which at press time was expected to be passed in second and third (final) Knesset readings after a late-night filibuster, aims to do away with this “absurdity.”
If it becomes law, Elkin’s boycott bill will empower Israeli individuals, institutions or businesses targeted by boycotts initiated by fellow Israelis to seek compensation in court for damages resulting not only from boycott but even from calls to boycott. A pretzel baker located, say, in the Barkan industrial zone in Samaria, or a winery on the Golan Heights or an academic institute in Ariel would be able to sue Israelis who called to boycott them or took other steps to organize such a boycott.
Courts would be permitted to award compensation “as justified by the circumstances,” and not necessarily in line with proven damage. The finance minister would be empowered to prevent businesses that boycott Israel from taking part in state tenders.
BUT WHILE we empathize with Elkin and other lawmakers’ protective instinct vis-a-vis the Jewish state, we must, nevertheless, respectfully disagree with their proposed legislation.
Civil society has an unalienable right to organize peacefully and to use its buying power or freedom of association to further political objectives, whether it be grassroots protest against the high price of cottage cheese, haredi activism against Shabbat desecration, rabbis’ calls to “boycott” potential Arab house-buyers in Jewish neighborhoods or left-wing opposition to the government’s settlement policy in Judea and Samaria.
Passage of Elkin’s boycott bill would restrict freedom of expression in Israeli society by singling out for censure only those who sincerely believe – no matter how misguided this belief may be – that it is in Israel’s better interest to end the “occupation” no matter what the potential security risks and sacrifice demanded of those slated for evacuation. And Israeli proponents of BDS, unlike those living abroad, at least have the redeeming attribute of being willing to pay the price personally for the consequences of their actions, which would make Israel’s borders less defensible.
The specifics of the legislation are also problematic.
Unlike the “Nakba Law,” which prohibits the use of taxpayers’ funds to commemorate the establishment of the State of Israel as a tragedy, but does not ban privately funded commemorations, Elkin’s legislation prohibits private Israeli citizens and businesses from spending or not spending their money the way they see fit or associating or not associating with whomever they wish.
Legislation that infringes freedom of expression is not the way to battle the local BDS movement. Boycott initiatives should be allowed to compete for support in the free market of ideas. Judging from the minuscule backing BDS receives locally, we can rest assured that reason will continue to win out.
Attempts to legitimize Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem through the stifling of criticism may just achieve the opposite, by providing BDS proponents with a truly worthy cause to champion – their own right to freedom of expression.