Supreme Court decision in Anti-Boycott Law case and the suppression of internal dissent

By SAWSAN ZAHER
May 3, 2015 22:23
Boycott Israel sign

Boycott Israel sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The enactment of the Anti-Boycott Law in Israel and the latest decision of the Israeli Supreme Court in this regard indicate that the Israeli government’s struggle against international pressure to end the occupation focuses in fact on suppressing internal dissent.

On April 15, 2015, the Supreme Court rejected petitions brought by 10 human rights organizations and others against the Anti-Boycott Law. The law was enacted in 2011, allegedly to fend off the growing international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel, which calls to boycott Israel and the settlements in the West Bank due to the almost 50-year occupation and the continuous, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel. But this law cannot be applied extraterritorially, in that it does not apply to any action outside of Israel; it applies only to boycott calls made in Israel and in occupied east Jerusalem. The law cannot reach a call for boycott in France, for example. This is why the law in fact comes to deal with internal Israeli groups that oppose the occupation – Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel and the Israeli Left. 


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This is not surprising, as for the past few years the Israeli Right has targeted these groups in response to the growing international critique against Israel and the steps undertaken by the Palestinian Authority on the international level. The Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have been targeted through the enactment of discriminatory laws, such as the Nakba Law which limits freedom of expression related to commemorating Nakba events; the Admissions Committee Law, which permits the exclusion of Arab families from community towns in Israel; and the Electoral Threshold Law, which aimed to exclude Arab political representation in the Knesset. With this new decision in the Anti-Boycott Law case, the Supreme Court joined the struggle of the government against these internal groups.

One of the most troubling aspects of the court’s ruling is not only the severe limitations placed on freedom of expression, but also the court’s adoption of an extreme right-wing discourse. Interestingly, this discourse purports to rely on the same tenets as human rights but it turns them upside down; at heart, it has another goal, which is to preserve ethnic superiority.

Examples of turning human rights on their head include demands from right-wing Israeli Jewish organizations, in the name of freedom from religion, that Jews be permitted to enter the Aksa Mosque in east Jerusalem, while ignoring the fact that Palestinians do not enjoy such a “right” in the most holy mosque for them.

Further, in the name of the rule of law and equality, right-wing organizations such as Regavim demand that the Supreme Court order the demolition of “illegally constructed” Palestinian homes in the West Bank, while those Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, are unable to receive a permit to build and are prohibited from being a part of the planning processes for their neighborhoods and villages.

Here the court seemingly used a human rights discourse to justify the constitutionality of the law, but practically, the court adopted the discourse of right-wing organizations such as Im Tirtzu and NGO Monitor. The justices compared the legitimacy of the Anti-Boycott Law to the legal and moral legitimacy of the Prohibition of Discrimination Law which prohibits discrimination based on area of living.

The mere comparison between these two laws is essentially incorrect.

The political purpose of a call to boycott and the moral purpose of the anti-discrimination law do not stand opposed to each other, in fact, both of them are meant to challenge racism and the superiority of one group over The court’s majority opinion essentially says that a call for boycott against settlers in the West Bank comprises collective punishment against them! This argument is specious and must be vehemently refuted. In fact, the Supreme Court has consistently justified collective punishment against Palestinians. Examples abound. The Supreme Court approved Israel’s closure policies of the Gaza Strip and upheld inhumane restrictions on electricity and fuel as a sanction against 1.8 million people. The Supreme Court has repeatedly approved punitive home demolitions, punishing entire families even for an alleged violent act of an individual family member.

It has also twice upheld the constitutionality of the law that bans family unification, targeting both Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel; this law imposes a sweeping prohibition on all Palestinian family unification in Israel, on the assumption that all Palestinians could potentially be a security threat to the state. Only one day before the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Anti-Boycott Law, the same court issued another ruling that permits the collective punishment of over 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli prisons, by banning them, as a group, from receiving higher education.

If this is the case, then from the court’s point of view, the right to equality receives protection only as long as the “victim” is a member of the occupying power and such protection is not offered to those from the occupied side. In other words, the rule of law is applicable to settlers in the illegal settlements in the West Bank but is suspended as long as the rights of Palestinian are at stake.

In addition, the right-wing civil rights discourse frequently describes any critique against Israel as “terrorism,” and attempts to challenge these oppressive laws and policies as “lawfare.” This is how the Right packages Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’s actions. According to the Right, Abbas is committing “political terrorism” by approaching the UN and international bodies requesting recognition of the State of Palestine and ratifying international human rights conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

This is also why the right wing, including the former foreign minister MK Avigdor Libermann, calls human rights organizations “terrorism supporters.”

This discourse found its way into the court’s anti-boycott ruling when the majority opinion stated that calls to boycott Israel are like committing “political terrorism.” If so, then was the boycott against Apartheid South Africa “political terrorism”? Was the boycott in the United States against businesses and companies that applied racist policies against African-Americans “political terrorism”? Or the boycott against the Montgomery buses that segregated White and Black Americans into separate sections of seating? Therefore, the Anti-Boycott Law is not merely an additional law that limits the freedom of expression; rather it is yet another law that aims to preserve the occupation and promote it, free from any critique, mainly that which comes from Palestinian citizens in Israel and the Israeli Left.

The ruling in the Anti-Boycott Law is not the exception, but it is becoming the rule. It is another link in a chain of negative rulings, not only concerning the occupation but also regarding Palestinian Arab citizens’ rights in Israel. If the Right wishes to make major changes in the Supreme Court’s policy, then they are too late. The court has already done it for them.

So the Israeli government’s response to the international pressure to end the occupation by oppressing internal groups succeeded in gaining the Court’s strong support. The question now is will the international community focus its attention also on the rights of these internally oppressed groups, especially the Palestinian minority?

The author is a senior lawyer with Adalah –The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and a member of the legal team representing the petitioners before the Israeli Supreme Court against the Anti-Boycott Law.


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