Who is destroying Israel's Israel-ness?

July 18, 2011
Sarah Benton

Not Befitting a Democracy
New York Times Editorial

Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished by a new law intended to stifle outspoken critics of its occupation of the West Bank.

The law, approved in a 47-to-38 vote by Parliament, effectively bans any public call for a boycott — economic, cultural or academic — against Israel or its West Bank settlements, making such action a punishable offense.

It would enable Israeli citizens to bring civil suits against people and organizations instigating such boycotts, and subject violators to monetary penalties. Companies and organizations supporting a boycott could be barred from bidding on government contracts. Nonprofit groups could lose tax benefits.

The law has rightly drawn fierce criticism in Israel. The newspaper Haaretz called it “politically opportunistic and antidemocratic,” and warned that it and other recently enacted laws were “transforming Israel’s legal code into a disturbingly dictatorial document.” In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League — which strongly supports Israel and opposes boycotts against it — warned that the law impinged on the “basic democratic rights of Israelis to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

We are also opposed to boycotts of Israel, but agree this is a fundamental issue of free speech.

Israel’s conservative government is determined to crush a growing push by Palestinians and their supporters for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. Since last year, many Israeli artists and intellectuals, as well international artists, have canceled performances and programs in Israel and the West Bank to protest the settlements. The bill’s sponsor, Zeev Elkin, said his concern was that the calls for a boycott “increasingly have come from within our own midst.”

With peace talks stalemated, Palestinians are searching for ways to keep alive their dream of a two-state solution, including a push for United Nations recognition this fall. Israel risks further isolating itself internationally with this attempt to stifle critics.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have exercised leadership and urged lawmakers against doing their country serious harm. While Mr. Netanyahu was absent for the vote, he eagerly insisted that it would never have passed “if I had not authorized it.”

Advocates said the law was needed to prevent efforts to “delegitimize” Israel, but no country can be delegitimized if it holds true to its democratic principles. Opponents are already challenging the law in court. We hope they succeed, for Israel’s sake.

Reform rabbis against boycott law

Dozens of members of Council of Progressive Rabbis sign ‘manifesto’ calling controversial bill adopted by Knesset ‘a dangerous move unlike any other, which repeatedly erodes Israel’s Jewish character’
Kobi Nahshoni, Ynetnews

Dozens of Reform rabbis have signed a “manifesto” against the boycott bill adopted by the Knesset this week and are calling on the wide public and religious leaders to act against it.

In the letter, members of the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis strongly criticize the controversial law, ruling that “it’s a mitzvah to protest against it and fight it until it disappears.”

The 85 men and women state that they are committed towards God and man to justice and integrity, to the love of the Jewish people and to maintaining the image of character of its state. Therefore, they are rising up against the law, which they define as “a dangerous step unlike any other on a slippery slope, which repeatedly erodes the Jewish character and democratic quality of Israel.”

According to the Reform rabbis, the right to voice an opinion, convince and protest is one of the most important human right, and without it society and the state cannot stand.

“The settlement supporters and opponents, those fearing anti-Israel boycotts, and fearing losing our way, Right and Left – they all must have a place of freedom among us,” they wrote.

The boycott law, the Reform rabbis believe, critically injures these basic rights, and therefore “it shouldn’t have been approved and no person should accept it.”

They accused the law’s supporters of being “the predatory majority seeking to prevent those with the opposite opinion and those committed to a different moral stance from expressing them and fighting for them.”

The Council of Progressive Rabbis noted in its letter that the mitzvah of protesting injustice is one of the cornerstones of the Torah, and therefore those who seek truth and justice – regardless of their political-Zionist outlook – must join forces in the struggle and show solidarity for those slated to be hurt by the law.

The Reform rabbis concluded their letter by calling on the leaders of all Jewish factions and of other religions in Israel “to take part in educational-religious activity aimed at strengthening Israeli democracy and fighting those plotting to destroy it.”

Israel passes anti-boycott law
Jeff Halper

On Monday, 11 July, Israel passed a law in the Knesset making it a civil offense to call for an economic, cultural or academic boycott of people or institutions in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories for political reasons. Any Israeli individual or organisation doing so could face financial penalties or a lawsuit.

The following statement has been issued by Jeff Halper, Director, ICAHD:

The Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) joins its other civil society partners of the Israeli peace movement, plus three dozen eminent Israeli law professors, in condemning the law passed this week by the Knesset which outlaws calls for boycotts against Israel and the settlements. Boycott is a legitimate, lawful and non-violent way to oppose oppressive policies such as South African apartheid or Israel’s 44-year occupation of the Palestinian territories. To criminalize such a call, to threaten the livelihood and financial well-being of Israeli citizens who support boycotts, to silence the voices of critics of occupation, calls into question even the most rudimentary elements of Israel democracy.

ICAHD stands on record as openly and unequivocally calling for BDS: boycotts of Israeli products (since it is Israel and not only the settlements who is responsible for perpetuating the Occupation), divestment from companies profiting from the Occupation, and sanctions against Israel until the Occupation ends, especially in the buying of Israeli arms. We call on people of conscience throughout the world to support BDS as an effective means of to bring about a just peace between Israeli and Palestinians.

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