Anti-boycott bill passes first reading

Bill would impose fine on citizens who aid campaigns against Israel; MK Henin: It’s the latest trend in anti-democratic legislation.

Ze’ev Elkin 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerzolomiski [file])
Ze’ev Elkin 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerzolomiski [file])
Despite the objections of leftwing MKs and the professional opinions of the Justice and Foreign ministries, the Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday approved for first reading in the plenum a bill that aims to sanction boycotts against Israel.
The bill proposes to place a NIS 30,000 fine on anyone who initiates, encourages or provides assistance to boycotts against a person because of his ties to Israel or an area under Israel’s control.
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At the request of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, additional clauses that would sanction non-Israelis, as well as foreign states and entities that boycotted Israel, were removed from the legislation.
The bill was submitted by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin and sponsored by 27 MKs from Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Habayit Hayehudi, United Torah Judaism and Kadima in its preliminary reading.
In presenting the measure, Elkin said that it is ridiculous that the United States has a law protecting Israel from boycotts, but that Israel doesn’t.
“It is time to put an end to this absurd situation. A citizen who acts out against Israel must know that he will face consequences,” he said.
Reactions to the bill from the Left were unanimously negative.
Hadash MK Dov Henin said it was the latest in an emerging trend of anti-democratic legislation promoted by Israel Beiteinu.
“The bill is crass, aggressive, brutal and anti-democratic,” Henin said. “The true significance of the bill is far-reaching and seeks to enlist the political Center to the agenda of the extreme Right. Its true intent is to determine that Israel and the occupied territories are one and the same.”
Henin said that if the bill becomes law, it would mean that people who sit at a restaurant and ask to return a bottle of wine produced in the West Bank, because they object to Israeli settlement there, would be subject to a large fine.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz demanded to hear the bills exact definition of a boycott.
“I searched the Internet to see what Israelis are boycotting these days, and I saw boycotts against the gas companies, boycotts against the Hermon ski resort, boycotts against Ikea and H&M, boycotts against Bar Refaeli... These are all legitimate public battles and a way for people to express their dislike of something. This bill has no definition of what constitutes a boycott. What will you sue people for? Where are the limits?” Horowitz asked.
Meretz chairman Haim Oron chose to attack the legislation from a wider angle. He challenged its supporters by asking them how they thought a law forbidding a boycott against a country would be accepted by the international community.
“How will you be able to justify Israel calling for a boycott against Iran?” he asked.
Hadash MK Hanna Sweid said the bill was meant to intimidate critics of government policies and was a clear violation of the freedom of expression.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel said the bill has no place in a democratic society and that it smelled of a nation living in fear. “The bill creates the feeling that Israel is cowardly and secluded, it presents us as weak and unconfident,” Cabel said.
Kadima MK Yochanan Plesner, whose party co-sponsored the measure, said it would harm Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world.
“I don’t believe that anyone here seriously believes that this bill will reverse the anti-Israel trend in the international community.
If anything, it will do the opposite,” Plesner said.
Additional criticism of the bill was expressed by the professional ranks of the Justice, Industry, Trade and Labor, and Foreign ministries. The Justice Ministry representative at the Law Committee meeting said the definition of boycott was overly vague and would require a more narrow wording to pass judicial review.
The Foreign Ministry representative said the bill, in its current form, would not help in the ministry’s efforts to oppose anti-Israel boycotts and delegitimization, and would in fact harm Israel’s relations with foreign countries in general and with other democracies in particular because of its implications for freedom of expression.
Additional objections were raised by the Association for Civil Rights, the Israel Democracy Institute and the Manufacturers Association.
After a fiery discussion, which included a procedural commotion, the bill was passed with its opponents storming out of the room, refusing to participate in the vote.