'EU worried 'Boycott Bill' will affect Israeli free speech'

Spokesperson for Catherine Ashton says bill may harm Israeli citizens' freedom to express opinions; PM at Knesset: I approved bill into law.

Catherine Ashton (R) 311 (photo credit: 	 REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)
Catherine Ashton (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)
The European Union is concerned about the effect the "Boycott Bill" will have on Israeli freedom of speech, a spokesperson for EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday, according to AFP.
"The EU recognizes Israel's sovereignty in the legislative process. Furthermore, the EU does not advocate boycotts," AFP quoted the spokesperson as saying.
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"However, as part of such fundamental values as free expression and speech that the EU cherishes and shares with Israel, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation may have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations to express non-violent political opinions,” the spokesperson said.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he supports the "Boycott Bill" which was approved by the Knesset on Monday and has since faced protests and petitions to the High Court challenging it.
Following a Kadima-initiated Knesset session on "the Netanyahu government's failures," the prime minister, who is required by law to give a response to a Knesset discussion with 40 or more signatures, Netanyahu confirmed he was in favor of the "Boycott Bill."
After the session, Netanyahu announced that he opposes a bill allowing the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to veto appointments of Supreme Court judges, which was proposed Coalition chair MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and MK Yariv Levin (Likud) on Wednesday.
"Don't be confused – I authorized the bill. If I hadn't authorized it, it wouldn't have gotten here," he said. "I am opposed to boycotts against Israel and boycotts against groups within Israel. I oppose boycotts of Arabs, of haredi people, and of any citizens of Israel."
The newly-passed "Boycott Bill" allows citizens to sue organizations or persons calling for a boycott against Israel or parts of Israel, and forbids the government from funding such organizations. Gush Shalom submitted a petition against the anti-boycott measure to the High Court on Tuesday.
Netanyahu also pointed out that Kadima originally supported the anti-boycott measure.
"You initiated the bill. Central members of Kadima – the faction chairwoman supported the law, and so did MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila and [former MK] Tzachi Hanegbi. Why did Kadima MKs that originally supported the bill decide to oppose the final draft?" Netanyahu asked. "Because there was pressure, and you gave in to that pressure."
The prime minister added: "If you don't like the bill, there's an easy way to deal with it – argue, convince, act, pull together a majority in the Knesset – that's the democratic way. You don't choose to respect laws you like and not respect laws you don't like."
"A law can be appealed in the High Court, and we respect the High Court. We will respect and defend the High Court," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister rejected claims that the bill is anti-democratic, and used MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) as an example.
"Earlier, an MK spoke that participated in the provocative flotilla meant to break the state's naval security blockade," Netanyahu said.
He then turned to Zoabi: "You're lucky that you are a member of the Israeli parliament and not the Syrian parliament, for example." Zoabi then began to shout at Netanyahu: "Go ahead, put me on trial! Put me on trial, like your soldiers should be put on trial!"
The Balad MK was forcibly removed from the plenum, with MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) yelling after her: "You are garbage!"
"Those who are concerned about Israel's image around the world need to stand before those who take advantage of the privileges that Israeli democracy gives them in order to turn every flaw into an attack on Israel's very right to exist," Netanyahu said.
"Enough people slander Israel, so I am asking you not to join them. Israeli democracy is excellent and will always remain so."
Following Netanyahu's speech, Opposition Leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) accused Netanyahu of "creating hatred between different parts of the nation, between majority and minority."
"This is a prime minister that does not know what democracy is. He is empty of all values. He doesn't understand that equality isn't a favor that you give someone, but a right that belongs to every citizen in the state," Livni said.
"I will not let you, once again, create a supposedly patriotic right-wing battle against organizations that cooperate with the enemy – that is a trick that will fail," the Kadima leader said.
"The battle is for the Zionist, Israel-loving majority that enlists in the army and fights, sometimes paying with their lives, for the State of Israel and its values," Livni added. "There is a sane, nationalist, liberal, strong, Zionist center, and that center is represented by Kadima."