Revised anti-boycott bill passed in Knesset Law Committee

Proposed legislation prohibits boycotts of Israel and the West Bank; left-wing MKs say measure could harm freedom of expression.

boycott israeli goods 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
boycott israeli goods 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Knesset Law Committee passed in first reading a watered-down version of a bill prohibiting boycotts of Israel and the West Bank on Monday.
The bill was revised after the original proposal was shot down by the professional ranks of the Justice, Foreign Affairs and Industry, Trade and Labor ministries for being likely to harm Israeli interests abroad.
The new version of the bill, submitted by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) following consultations with the Justice Ministry, defined boycott as “an intentional avoidance of economic, cultural or academic relations with a person or another agent, solely because of their ties to the State of Israel, its institutions or areas under its control.”
The bill proposes that anyone who knowingly and publicly calls for such a boycott be found as having committed a civil injustice and be punished by law.
The original bill, submitted at the beginning of last month, proposed a fine of NIS 30,000 on anyone initiating, encouraging or providing assistance to boycotts, although it included no definition whatsoever of what in fact constituted a boycott.
Like the original draft, the revised bill was also harshly criticized by left-wing MKs who claimed that the definition of boycott was still too vague and as such could harm citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said that while the new bill was a vast improvement over the original – which in his words was “outrageous and dangerous” – it still poses unnecessary restrictions on the expression of legitimate opinions.
“If I publish an opinion article stating that school children should not go on field trips to West Bank settlements, will I be punishable by law?” he asked. “We can’t pass a bill that forbids me from publicly voicing an opinion. The definition is still too broad.”
Kadima MK Yochanan Plessner suggested adopting instead a more specific definition of boycott dealing with financial harm only, claiming that the prohibition of cultural boycotts was too political and would prevent legitimate forms of protest. He also expressed concern that the prohibition spoke about the actions of individuals and suggested that it be changed to include only larger organizations.
“The individual’s right to free expression is the ABCs of democracy,” Plessner said.
Though the professional ranks of the ministries were not given a chance to weigh in on the revised version of the bill, committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) promised that they would be heard once the bill returned to the committee for its second and third readings.
The MKs voted on the revised version and passed it by a vote of eight to four.
“It is time for Likud and Israel Beiteinu MKs stop the shameful contest between them over the destruction of Israel’s democratic values and start strengthening what has always been our source of pride – the fact that we are a bastion of democratic sanity in the Middle East,” Plessner said after the discussion.
The left-wing organization Gush Shalom, which in the past has called for boycotts against products made in the settlements, said the change to the bill had been merely cosmetic and that it remained anti-democratic.
“Blurring the lines between the settlements and Israeli territories plays into the hands of our enemies,” the group said in a press release.