Boycott Law lets Israel defend itself

Facing ongoing attacks from the global BDS movement, Israel cannot be expected to support those who work toward its economic destruction.

By ELIHU STONE
July 13, 2011 23:13
4 minute read.
Israeli's march with flags (illustrative)

Israel Flag March 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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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.

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A 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 undemocratically.

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 Boycott.

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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 its opponents.

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.

To 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.

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