All voices raised against boycott law

This post contains 12 items

1. JfJfP boycott law statement
2. Gush Shalom petitions the Supreme Court
3. Adalah/Pcati/PHR-I/CWP’s boycott law statement
4. Human Rights Watch boycott law statement
5. Amnesty’s boycott law statement
6. ACRI analysis US v Israeli boycott laws
7. Yossi Gurvitz, The Decline and Fall of the Israeli Democracy, on his Wish You Orwell blog
8. Jewish Forward editorial, We Can’t Say This
9. Herb Keinon, Anti-boycott law not yet making diplomatic waves, Jerusalem Post
10. BBC report, Israeli press blast boycott law
11. Gideon Levy, Why Israelis must fight against the boycott law, Ha’aretz
12. Jewish Chronicle editorial, Anti-democratic

Jews for Justice for Palestinians boycott law statement
Press Release

JfJfP wishes to express its abhorrence at the passing of the Boycott Law on July 12 in the Knesset. We fully support the petitions to the Supreme Court from Gush Shalom and ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel). Below are respectively their press release and letter to supporters, together with a press release from four Israeli human rights groups – Adalah (the legal centre for Palestinian citizens of Israel), PHR- I (Physicians for Human Rights – Israel), CWP (Coalition of Women for Peace) and PCATI (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel) – who had written an urgent letter of protest to the Israeli Ministers of Justice and Finance and to the Knesset Chair just before the Knesset vote.

These four groups are also intending to challenge the law in the courts. As Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom has said: “this law makes everyone who calls for boycotting the settlements liable for paying millions of shekels in compensation to the settlers…..This law makes it unequivocally clear that it isn’t Israel that controls the settlements, but the settlers who control Israel”.

The passing of the Boycott Law signals the victory of the extreme right and the defeat of the Israeli democratic left, who – with the exception of small, brave and beleaguered groups such as these human rights organisations – have, by their silence in the face of previous attacks on democratic rights, and their lack of an alternative vision, contributed to the political climate in which this undemocratic law can be passed.

We strongly support the legal challenge, as an initial step in reversing the downward slide of Israel towards totalitarianism.

Gush Shalom petitions the Supreme Court:

Boycott Law is unconstitutional and anti-democratic, stifling criticism of policy in the Occupied Territories

Press release, 12.07.11

Gush Shalom, which in the 1990’s was the first Israeli body to lead a boycott of settlement products, presented today (Tuesday, 12.7) an appeal to the Supreme Court against the “Boycott Law”, approved last night by the Knesset plenum. The petition was filed for Gush Shalom by lawyers Gaby Lasky and Neri Ramati.

The appeal states that the new law violates basic democratic principles: “The parliamentary majority seeks, through the Boycott Law as by other pieces of legislation, to silence any criticism of government policy in general and of government policy in the Occupied Territories in particular, and to prevent an open and productive political dialogue, which constitutes the basis for a functioning democratic regime” (art. 7).

The appeal also notes that “the a-priori silencing of one side’s voice by the other side party, causes substantial harm to the Freedom of Expression and is a clear indication of the weakening of the democratic regime” (a. 32)

Further, it is argued that the Boycott Law is unconstitutional and anti-democratic, as it violates the right to Freedom of Expression and to Equality, which are fundamental rights of citizens of Israel” (art. 7) – a violation which is neither “proportionate” nor “for a worthy purpose”, the only circumstances under which such a violation might be considered acceptable.

In addition, it is stated that the new law causes severe damage to the Freedom of Vocation of commercial companies, freedom of occupation of the companies, since it would blur the difference between products made inside Israel’s sovereign territory and those made at settlements in the Occupied Territories: “Israeli companies seeking to break into overseas markets and increase the circulation of their goods might be required [in some countries] to state that they do not carry out production in the Territories nor purchase goods produced there.

However, Article 4 of the Boycott Law makes such companies liable to lose significant economic benefits from the state [of Israel]” (a. 59).

The appeal asserts boycott is a legitimate tool for democratic discourse, which must not be infringed. Various examples and precedents are cited, ranging from the ultra-Orthodox boycott of restaurants that serve non-kosher food, the recent boycott of overpriced cottage cheese the boycott of tourism to Turkey launched by Israeli trade unions. Along with such Israeli examples are mentioned historical cases of boycotts that led to political change and to change in awareness, such as the boycott launched by Mahatma Gandhi against British products in India, the boycotts of the Afro-American community against segregation in the 1960’s, and more. Therefore, the new law is held to be violating the principle of Equality because it targets the right of opponents of the occupation engage in an ideological boycott – while other kinds of boycotts on an ideological basis going on now in Israel will be allowed to continue uninterrupted, such as a boycott on artists who did not serve in the IDF, on gay singers and on enterprises which do not observe the Sabbath.

Former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom activist, said: “The Boycott Law is a black stain on the statutes of the State of Israel. It is my sincere hope that the court will overturn it, and save what is left of Israeli democracy.”

Adalah/Pcati/PHR-I/CWP’s boycott law statement
Press release, 12.07.11

Adalah (the legal centre for Palestinian citizens of Israel), PHR-I (Physicians for Human Rights – Israel), CWP (Coalition of Women for Peace) and PCATI (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel) –

Israeli human rights groups: Anti-boycott law effectively a legal annexation of the West Bank

A new Israeli law passed on Monday prohibits boycott of businesses, universities, and social and cultural institutions based in Israel and the illegal settlements, and imposes heavy financial sanctions against civil society organisations and businesses that participate in boycotts.

A new law passed Monday, 11 July 2011, by Israel’s Knesset seriously harms freedom of expression and freedom of association, said leading human rights groups in Israel today. Moreover, it gives protection to the illegal West Bank settlements in Israeli law, by penalizing their opponents, they said. According to the organizations, the law will in effect oblige individuals, companies and organisations to support the illegal settlements by doing business with them. ‘The bill seeks to enforce legal protection for an illegal project,’ said Hadas Ziv of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. ‘In other words, it signals a de jure annexation of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.’ According to Attorney Hassan Jabareen, Director of Adalah, ‘Defining boycott as a civil wrong suggests that all Israelis have a legal responsibility to promote the economic advancement of the settlements in the OPT. This means that Israeli organisations opposing the settlements as a matter of principle are in a legal trap.’ On Monday, Israeli human rights organisations wrote an urgent letter of protest to the Israeli Ministers of Justice and Finance and to the Knesset Chair, stressing that irrespective of their own positions regarding the tactic of boycott, outlawing it severely restricts freedom of expression, by targeting non-violent public expressions of opposition to Israeli policies.

Immediately following the Knesset vote on Monday night, the organizations declared they would challenge the law in Israel’s High Court of Justice. The Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights- Israel issued a harsh statement against the law, undertaking to disobey it and calling on others to use civil disobedience in order to defend freedom of expression in Israel.

According to Dr. Ishai Menuhin of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the law’s wording specifically targets those who promote boycott for political reasons due to their opposition to Israeli government policies and the occupation. It will harm freedom of expression through intimidation. ‘The law could lead state-funded institutions such as theatres to pressure their employees not to express their positions regarding the settlements, for fear of having their state funding withheld,’ he said. Eilat Maoz of the Coalition of Women for Peace said, ‘This is a clear case of political persecution. The law will create an atmosphere of fear and seeks to incite the entire Israeli public against peace and human rights activists and organisations. Members of the Knesset are responsible for the further isolation of Israel as a country that intentionally violates human rights and civil liberties.’ The law will also affect freedom of association, said the organisations, since it will expose organisations engaging in public campaigning against the settlements and other human rights violations to legal and financial sanctions and costly compensations claims by settler organisations. ‘The EU and other foreign governments will no longer be able to fund human rights work in Israel if our organisations’ tax exempt status is revoked,’ they said.

The anti-boycott law

The ‘Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott – 2011,’ which was approved last night by a majority of 47 to 38 Members of Knesset, prohibits the public promotion of boycott by Israeli citizens and organisations, and, in some cases, agreement to participate in a boycott. It forbids not only a boycott of Israeli institutions but also of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

The law defines public boycott as a new type of ‘civil wrong’ or tort. It will enable settlers or other parties targeted by boycotts to sue anyone who calls for boycott, and the court may award compensation including punitive damages, even if no actual damage is caused to the boycotted parties.

Further, the law will revoke tax exemptions and other legal rights and benefits from Israeli individuals and groups, as well as academic, cultural and scientific institutions which receive any state support, if they engage in boycott.

Israeli businesses and industries will also be penalised by the law, if they work with the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian companies and accept their conditions that exclude trade with businesses that also trade with settlements. A recent example of this is the plan to build the new Palestinian city of Rawabi. Israeli contractors wishing to participate have been asked by Palestinians to refrain from also doing business with settlements. The law seeks to penalise such contractors and may in effect deter Israeli businesses from trading with Palestinian businesses more generally.

Human Rights Watch boycott law statement

Israel: Anti-Boycott Bill Stifles Expression

Penalties Could Cause Human Rights Groups to Shut Down
13.07.11, Jerusalem

The Israeli parliament has violated the right to freedom of expression by approving a law that penalizes individuals and organizations that call for boycotting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Knesset passed the “Bill for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel Through Boycott – 2011” by a vote of 47 to 38 late in the evening of July 11, 2011. It was proposed by a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The law threatens lawsuits and damages, and could strip human rights and civil society groups of their tax-exempt status, forcing them to shut down. That would violate their right to freedom of association and expression, Human Rights Watch said.

“Whatever one thinks of boycotts, a law that punishes peaceful advocacy in opposition to government policies is a bald-faced attempt to muzzle public debate,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This law attacks Israeli civil society and will turn back the clock on freedom of expression and association.”

The law penalizes any person or organization that calls for an “economic, cultural or academic” boycott of “a person or other party” because of its “relation” to Israel, Israeli institutions, or “any area under [Israel’s] control,” a reference to the occupied Palestinian territories. The law defines boycotts to include “undertakings not to purchase products or services produced or provided in the state of Israel, in any of its institutions or in an area under its control.”

The law entitles those targeted by boycotts to sue those calling for a boycott for damages, and enables courts to require payments to the aggrieved party “independently of actual damage done.” It also permits the government to revoke the tax-exempt status of organizations that call for boycotts and makes public institutions that promote boycotts, including universities, ineligible for various forms of public funding, including for research and development, capital investments, and other support. Bidding on public tenders would be restricted to companies or organizations that do not participate in boycotts.

Several Israeli human rights and civil society groups, including the Israel Committee against House Demolitions and Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), have advocated boycotts on the basis that settlements are unlawful under the Geneva Conventions. Other groups, including the Coalition of Women for Peace, have responded to calls for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” by conducting and publishing research about companies based in Israeli settlements that assists consumer boycott efforts, which could be interpreted as falling under the bill’s definition of publishing calls for boycotts.

In addition to subjecting such groups to the threat of lawsuits and fines, the law could cause them to lose their funding sources. Many such groups depend on foreign – often European – funders, whose regulations in some cases prohibit disbursing grants that would be taxed by other states and contribute to their treasury.

The law could also be applied to Israeli writers, artists, and actors who called on actors not to perform in a cultural center in the Ariel settlement and Israeli professors who called for an academic boycott of the Ariel University Center.

On its face, the law also applies to Palestinian “permanent residents” of East Jerusalem, an area that Israel unilaterally annexed in 1967 but is still considered part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories under international law. In a statement, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Adalah, and the Coalition of Women for Peace pointed to the “absurd result” that “a boycott call by the residents of East Jerusalem against the settlements” would give settlers the right “to demand compensation from victims of the occupation.”

Israeli human rights groups have said they will petition the Supreme Court to overturn the law on the basis that it infringes individual freedoms. Among them is the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which has not taken a position for or against boycotts.

The anti-boycott law is a modified version of a bill introduced in 2010, along with a number of other bills that targeted human rights organizations and civil society groups. A bill sponsored by Ze’ev Elkin, the Likud member who also proposed the anti-boycott law, became law in February. It imposes quarterly rather than annual reporting requirements on nongovernmental groups that receive foreign government funding, which includes human rights groups but not pro-settler groups.

A Human Rights Watch report found that, in West Bank areas under exclusive Israeli control, Israeli policies discriminate against Palestinians in favor of settlements.

Amnesty’s boycott law statement
Amnesty International

Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression
‘This law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent’ – Philip Luther

A law passed by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) making it an offence to call for a boycott against the state of Israel or its West Bank settlements will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Israel, Amnesty International said today.

The controversial law, passed on Monday night, makes it a civil offence to call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of people or institutions in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) for political reasons. Anyone making such calls could face a lawsuit and other financial penalties.

Sponsors of the bill, originally proposed in July 2010 by Knesset member and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, have made it clear that one of the main aims of the law is to penalize those using boycott calls to campaign against Israel’s illegal settlements in the OPT or highlight the ongoing violations of Palestinian rights caused by the settlements.

“Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Promoted and supported by the Netanyanhu government, the law was passed by 47 votes to 36, even though top legal advisers to the Knesset and Israel’s Attorney General said it was “borderline illegal”. Several Israeli human rights NGOs have indicated that they plan to challenge the law in Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Parties filing lawsuits would not have to prove that a call to boycott has resulted in actual damages, as courts can order people or organizations calling for a boycott to pay compensation independently of the damages caused.

The law also allows the Minister of Finance to revoke the tax-exempt status of NGOs calling for a boycott, which threatens the funding on which many Israeli human rights NGOs rely. Companies or organizations participating in a boycott could also be disqualified from applying for government contracts.

This is only one of many laws recently passed or being considered by the Knesset which have been criticized by Israeli human rights NGOs for restricting freedom of expression, the work of Israeli civil society organizations, or the rights of Palestinian citizens and their political representatives.

Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered a war crime, according to the statute of the International Criminal Court.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to end settlement construction as a first step towards completely removing unlawful Israeli settlements from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Amnesty International has taken no position on boycotts anywhere in the world, but fears that this law will lead to violations of the right to freedom of expression of those calling for boycotts.

Public Document

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) analysis: US v Israeli boycott laws

July 2011

In recent weeks, Israeli parliamentarians promoting the “Boycott Bill” – which passed last night in a 47-38 vote in the Knesset – have frequently referred to US boycott-banning legislation in an attempt to greenlight the Israeli bill. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has examined this analogy and determined that while there are clear similarities, the legislations differ in critical ways. While both legislations acknowledge that calls for boycott can touch upon foreign policy issues, the US legislation restricts its ban to, participation in boycott initiated by foreign governments only; while the Israeli legislation aggressively limits the free speech also of individuals and civil society who call for boycott of their own conscience.

The major differences can be summarized in five points:

1. US legislation bans only participation in boycott, the Israeli legislation bans also calls for boycott.

2. US legislation only restricts participation in a boycott initiated by a foreign government; Israeli legislation restricts all boycotts of Israel and the settlements.,

3. In the US, the federal government is the sole body charged with enforcing the law, and there is no opening for the intervening action of private bodies.

4. US law grants special protection to the boycott as an expression of conscience; the Israeli law not only does not protect it as an expression, but now formally says that boycott is a non-legitimate expression (only when it is a call for boycott of Israel or a territory under the control of Israel) .

5. The wording of the Israeli law is so vague that it could apply to any boycott of any Israeli citizen or body for almost any reason. And as such causes a “chilling effect” on all boycotts, and on freedom of speech.

Regarding the Israeli law:

The Israeli legislation is broader and more comprehensive than its US counterpart in several key aspects:

The most important is that the EAA is limited – it makes it unlawful for an American citizen to knowingly and intentionally support or participate in a boycott of Israel, only when “pursuant to an agreement with, a requirement of, or a request from or on behalf of the [foreign] boycotting country.”

There is historical background to the EAA and its prohibition of boycotts initiated by foreign countries. The act was legislated as a means of counteracting the Arab League’s organized boycott of Israel. It is clear from the legislative history that Congress wanted to prevent a coordinated attempt to limit American companies and individuals from doing business with Israel. It was never their intent to limit American citizens and businesses from acting upon their conscience.

In America, boycotts have especially protected status – they are considered expressive activity and thus enjoy the protections of free speech that are enshrined in US legislation. Any attempt to limit what citizens are allowed to buy, what they can convince others to purchase or call on them not to purchase, is viewed as an attack on the very heart of freedom of speech. Participation in a boycott initiated by a foreign

country, however, is perceived as less of a pure speech issue and more of what is nicknamed “speech plus.” As such, it is liable to greater regulation under US law.

The Israeli law makes no such distinction between boycotting Israel or Israeli companies as a matter of conscience, and boycotting Israel as part of the organized efforts of the Arab League, foreign states, and/or international organizations calling for the economic isolation of Israel. The law indiscriminately prohibits any boycott on Israel, any part of Israel, or any Israeli companies, even if the boycott is held, for example, in protest of Israeli policies wholly unrelated to the Occupation.

The law draws a comparison between Israeli companies, Israeli artists, Israeli academics, etc. to the State of Israel itself. Under its definition, any boycott called upon any Israeli for any reason, would be subject to the provisions of this law.

Another major problem is that Israeli law creates a right to private action, the ability of direct and indirect victims of the boycott to sue for damages, and offers a 30,000 NIS compensation even in cases in which no actual financial damage has been shown. In the United States, the Department of Commerce, a federal agency of the U.S. Government, is the sole body that can enforce the EAA. There is no possibility for private action. As far as I know (after extensive searches and discussions with individuals and organizations that are experts in the field) the US federal government has never attempted to enforce the EAA against individual American citizens for participating in the boycotts.

General comments:

The Export Administration Act (EAA) expired in August 2001, and as such the continued regulation of US exports has relied on an Executive Order of the President (the authority granted to him through emergency economic legislation known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.) This executive order of the President does not require the approval of Congress. There is currently a public, legal debate about whether the President’s authority includes the extension of the provisions of the EAA that prohibit participation in the boycott.

The US Department of Commerce, responsible for enforcing compliance with the EAA’s boycott provisions, has not targeted US citizens calling for a boycott of Israel, despite the fact that there are extensive and increasing calls of this sort in America. Among the reasons for this non-enforcement is that the department recognizes the shaky legal footing of the presidential executive order.

The Decline and Fall of the Israeli Democracy
Yossi Gurvitz

The instinct of the left, to appeal to the courts against undemocratic laws, is wrong. It’s time for Israel to pay the price for its laws

The Knesset approved yesterday the anti-boycott law, pretty much as it was presented after Committee. The list of the undertakers of Israeli democracy can be read here (Hebrew). Exceptional swinishness was expressed by MK Uri Orbach, who interrupted MK Ahmed Tibi’s speech by calling “you’re time is over – it was over in 1948”. This particular gem was repeated by MK Carmel Shama Lamma Ding Dong Ha’Cohen.

A few minutes after the bill became law, a small demonstration spontaneously bloomed in Rabin Square, where, ever since the eponymous PM was assassinated there, the Israeli left traditionally mourns yet another blow to democracy. Some 100 people showed up; Some said there were 200, but I think this was an exaggeration. One of the frequently expressed sentiments was that, yes, the law is horrible, but the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) will save us and strike it down. During the Knesset debate, Tibi even said Adalah and ACRI have already penned the appeal. At least as far as ACRI is concerned, this isn’t true.

May I suggest the Israeli left should rethink the idea, and avoid its Pavlovian instinct to appeal to the SCJ against each new abomination? These petitions are problematic, for several reasons.

For starters, they play into the hands of the right wing. Its people can point, time and time again, to the fact that laws which they pass, in accordance with every rule of formal play, which also enjoy wide public support – as this law also does – are stricken down by an unelected elite. One could, of course, counter by saying that this is precisely the rule of a supreme court in a democracy, but this argument requires a public familiar with more sides of democracy than majority rule, and we seem to lack one.

Furthermore, the right wing – and the opponents of the SCJ in general – point to the fact that the Court was never granted such a role in Israel’s Basic Laws; and in the absence of a constitution or a clear Basic Law granting this authority, we have a major problem. Yes, I know that precisely such a move was taken by the American Supreme Court in the days of Jefferson; but it did have a constitution which declared itself superior to any law of the land, and someone had to rule what it means.

It’s no accident Israel does not have a constitution; any such document would have to deal with issue of equality. People who remember the debates surrounding the Bask Law: Human Dignity and Freedom will know that, under ultra-Orthodox pressure, the clause confirming all Israelis to be equal before the law was taken down. Twenty years later, one can say without fear of contradiction that a great majority of Israelis will reject a constitution declaring equality. Jewish and democratic? Hardly. But even the proponents of this principle put Judaism first.

The second is “what will the gentiles say”. A large segment of the public sees no problem with the loyalty laws per se, but is worried of the damage to the image of Israel. The SCJ, which is one of the architects of the occupation, without which it would impossible to maintain, is a classic part of this hoodwinking of the gentiles. It is the last fig leaf of the Zionist regime (and, to those who bristle at the usage of this term; ask yourself: Isn’t that how Israel describes itself?). A classic example is the SCJ ruling regarding the separation barrier: The Sharon government was bitterly hostile to it and did everything it could to avoid enforcing it – but when the Hague International Court started debating the barrier, the government hastily waved the SCJ ruling as a way of proving it had another, better, ruling.

This fig leaf, which allows Israel to act as an intolerant ethnocracy while pretending to be the only democracy in the Middle East, must be discarded. The Boycott Law already caused some progress: Shalom Achshav, a rather lukewarm and controversy-shy movement, has – for the first time in its history – announced support of a settlement boycott. Many people who were not aware of the issue now are. The settlers are used to acting stealthily; this time, they are forced to act in the daylight. It’s not only the boycott which worries them: The Knesset will vote next week on the board of inquiry of leftist organizations, a bit of legislation which seemed dead in the water just six months ago.

Going to the SCJ, which may take up to 12 years to consider the case, is putting a band aid on a gangrenous limb. What we need is an amputation. We should not go to the courts unless forced to, by being sued – and otherwise, Israel should be seen as what it is. In due time – likely, in less time than a SCJ decision – the EU will take notice of what happens in Israel and act accordingly. It already demands that Israel clearly mark produce made in the settlements, and threatened stopping all exports from Israel. There’s a strong chance the latest law will make them sit up and take note. Should it, perhaps, demand every Israeli exporter and tourist to prove he is not enjoying the benefits of the new law, Israelis will find the party is over. And the settlers will finally pay the price of the occupation the rest of us have been bearing for them in the last 44 years. That’s what we need: The end of the legitimacy of the State of All its Jews.

And, in the meantime, we’ll politely ask Israelis to only buy products made in the State of Israel. Anything more than that is, beginning this morning, illegal.

We Can’t Say This

Jewish Forward Editorial

We could get in trouble for this. Not in New York City, where this editorial is being written, because legitimate comment is protected under the First Amendment. But our editorials, along with many other stories and columns in the Forward, also appear every Sunday in the English edition of the Haaretz newspaper in Israel. And now, with a new anti-boycott law approved by the Knesset and due to take effect in less than 90 days, the boundaries of free speech and legitimate expression have grown unpredictably and suffocatingly tight.

So, for example, if we say something like: We can understand why reasonable people could advocate a boycott of products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank because those settlements are deemed illegal under international law and because a boycott is a peaceful way of expressing a moral concern — well, if we say something like that, we could be sued and held liable in civil court. And that court could award financial recompense to the plaintiff not according to actual damage done to his income if, for instance, we suggested that people refrain from buying his oranges or his facial cream, but according to what he thinks he might lose in the future.

Unpack this for a moment. We didn’t boycott, we just expressed sympathy in a way that could be seen as advocacy without taking the leap from speech to action. We didn’t target a product manufactured in Tel Aviv or Hadera or within the undisputed borders of Israel, or in any way seek to delegitimize the state. We surely didn’t advocate violence or express a destructive opinion about Israel or its government and leaders.

We simply said that promoting a boycott of goods from the occupied West Bank could be a legitimate form of political protest by those who love Israel and therefore wish to see her survive as a democratic Jewish state with borders that allow for a viable Palestinian state next door.

But it could get us in trouble.

Which is why we have stricken the potentially offending words. Just in case.

It may be that when the Israeli Supreme Court hears the inevitable legal challenge to the anti-boycott law, it will rule it unconstitutional and prove, again, that a democratic system of checks and balances exists in the Israeli polity. It may be that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who stayed away from the impassioned Knesset debate on the bill, even though it was sponsored by a member of his own party — will signal his displeasure and work to get it repealed.

This, however, may all be wishful thinking. The Israeli government has to answer to its own people before it answers to Diaspora Jews, and the inability of a weak political opposition and a tepid public response to stop this disturbing new law could mean that it is actually what Israel wants. It may think putting limits on free speech and outlawing calls for boycott are the best way to counter its growing diplomatic isolation. After all, Israel is not the only country in its neighborhood to use drastic measures to curtail political protest, and the prospect of a civil case for damages contained in this new law is far more palatable than the punishments meted out by ruthless leaders elsewhere in the region.

Yet, comparing Israel to its struggling neighbors sets such a low standard of democratic performance that it hardly seems worth the trouble. The threat of “delegitimization” — real in some instances, overblown in many others — should be countered with forceful, positive action to solve real problems, not silence them. No attempt to threaten or censor can hide the fact that, for 44 years, Israel has ruled another people with its own legitimate, national aspirations, and it is in everyone’s interests, including those of the United States, to negotiate an end to this impasse.

The fear and frustration that prompted this new law are to be acknowledged, but they cannot justify such a dangerous move. Some boycotts are ruthless and discriminatory, true, but in other circumstances, a boycott can be a legitimate use of non-violent protest to achieve a worthy goal.

A boycott of West Bank products could fall into the first category. It could also be seen as a noble attempt to effect change

But we can’t say that.

Anti-boycott law not yet making diplomatic waves
By Herb Keinon, Jpost, 14.07.11

State Department official calls Israel a “healthy democracy”; British Ambassador Matthew Gould coming out publicly against the law.

While the anti-boycott law passed by the Knesset on Tuesday continued to ignite sparks domestically, diplomatically there has yet to be much fallout, with a State Department official calling Israel a “healthy democracy” and only British Ambassador Matthew Gould coming out publicly against the law.

However, the EU was expected to issue a statement on the matter in the very near future.

“This is an internal Israeli matter,” the State Department official said. “Israel has a history of a healthy democracy, and this law is a product of the democratic process of Israel.” At the same time, the official said that “freedom of expression, including the freedom to organize and protest peacefully, is a basic right in democracy, and one of the values that Americans and Israelis share.”

Ultimately, the official said, “the laws of the State of Israel are in the hands of the people.”

The official indicated that the US would watch to see how the law was applied, saying, “We routinely monitor laws that are passed in countries where we have embassies, to keep Washington informed of the realities on the ground.”

The British ambassador, meanwhile, said in a Ma’ariv interview: “We are concerned about the passing of this law, which damages the legitimate right to freedom of speech, and which conflicts with the strong Israeli tradition of lively and vigorous political debate.”

Foreign Ministry officials said they had not yet heard any concern about the law or condemnations of it from other governments around the world, nor been asked for any clarifications.

Israeli press blast boycott law

BBC, 12 July 2011

The Israeli Knesset’s passing of a controversial law penalising anyone calling for a boycott of the country or its settlements has been the subject of much debate in the Israeli press.

One paper sympathetic to PM Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that the law was timely, but two prominent dailies suggested that – far from protecting Israel – MK Zeev Elkin’s law would only play into the hands of the country’s enemies.

Other commentators condemned the new law outright as “undemocratic”, while one wondered why the prime minister did not take part in the vote.

Haim Shine in free, pro-Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom

A small minority group in Israel that had despaired of winning the elections has decided to act through subversive methods like promoting an agenda of encouraging the imposition of boycotts. [Israeli peace activists] boycott soldiers who defend the right of peace activists to live in a free, democratic state… The Boycott Law is something timely. A country that respects itself cannot allow subversive activity.

Editorial in English-language Jerusalem Post

While we empathize with Elkin and other lawmakers’ protective instinct vis-a-vis the Jewish state… Civil society has an inalienable right to organise peacefully and to use its buying power or freedom of association to further political objectives, whether it be grassroots protest against the high price of cottage cheese… rabbis’ calls to ‘boycott’ potential Arab house-buyers in Jewish neighbourhoods, or left-wing opposition to the government’s settlement policy… Attempts to legitimise the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem [the West Bank] through the stifling of criticism may just achieve the opposite.

Amnon Rubinstein in centrist Ma’ariv

The first question to be asked in relation to the Boycott Law is whom this law will help? And the answer is: Israel’s enemies… This law will serve as a weapon in the hands of those who claim that Israel is not democratic and does not observe human rights and will increase Israel’s isolation in both the academic world and also among the liberal democracies of the West. Paradoxically, this law increases the danger of boycott of Israel and this is the opposite of what Israel needs these days.

Nahum Barnea in centrist, mass circulation Yediot Aharonot

The law is bad. In a clever trick reminding one of dark regimes it turns only against he who calls for a boycott on a geographical basis. Rightwing activists who walk around in demonstrations with t-shirts bearing the inscription ‘I only buy from Jews’ are exempt from punishment. Also exempt from punishment are the rabbis who call for not renting houses to Arabs… The right has dug a well into which it may itself fall.

Editorial in left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz

It is couched in vague language… This vagueness is intentional, designed to conceal the goal of spreading a wide protective net over the settlements, whose products, activities and in fact very existence are the main reason for the boycott initiatives, both domestic and foreign… Knesset members who vote for this law must understand that they are supporting the gagging of protests as part of an ongoing effort to liquidate democracy.

Avirama Golan in left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz

Israel’s image is a truly trivial issue compared to the process of change being wrought in Israeli society by the cabal of Yisrael Beitenu, extremist rabbis and Kahanists. This process is crudely erasing entire entries from the democratic dictionary, and in their place – via a series of focused laws with intentionally vague wording – it is putting blatantly totalitarian values. The Boycott Law is just one step in this process.

Gershon Baskin in English-language The Jerusalem Post

The legislative agenda of this Knesset, sponsored by this government and promoted by hate and fear mongers, is further evidence that Israel is digging its heels in against a current whose strength is increasing. The ‘Nakba Law,’ the allegiance oath, the Anti-political NGO laws, the Anti-boycott Law – all these are symptoms of a society which has lost control of its own sense of legitimacy, and therefore uses a temporary coalition majority to impose limits on its own democracy in order to create a facade of strength and determination.

Dimi Reider in independent blog-based web magazine +972

This is the first of an entire barrage of anti-democratic bills being pushed for legislation that actually went through. Tonight may be the night when the coalition, up to and including its wackiest members, will finally realise it is in power, it is in control – and the parliamentary left can do very little to stop them.

Yossi Verter in left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz

From today, it is permissible in the State of Israel to boycott dairy farms, food chains… airlines that fly on the Sabbath, delicatessens that sell pork, Arabs who want to rent flats – only not the settlements. The Knesset disguised itself yesterday as the Yesha settler council and approved the Boycott Banning Law, another law from a long list of undemocratic, racist and anti-Arab laws that have become the symbol of the 18th Knesset and Netanyahu’s government.

Sima Kadmon in centrist, mass circulation Yediot Aharonot

In the vote on one of the most controversial laws, Netanyahu was absent… If Netanyahu thinks that this law harms the State of Israel and its image as a democratic state, we would have expected [him] to stand up against it like a man. And if he is for it, he should not let others do the work for him – turn up at the plenum and vote for it with a head held high.

Why Israelis must fight against the boycott law

With the new boycott law the meager Israeli discourse will become even more threadbare due to the silencing laws; this may be the last call to boycott those who are boycotting Israeli democracy.

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 14.07.11

I have never preached publicly to others to boycott the products of the settlements. Everyone should follow his own conscience. Just as I try to buy blue-and-white Israeli products, I also try not to buy “black”: products with a very black flag flying over them, a flag of injustice and theft. The Boycott Law that was passed this week is causing me to change direction: From now on I will publicly preach to others, too, not to buy black products. Yes, boycott them!

“Yo, brechen!” was the headline above the article by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which was published in Heint, the organ of his movement in Warsaw, on November 3, 1932. “Yes, break them!” was the headline of the Hebrew translation of the article, which appeared on the front page of Hazit Ha’am on December 2, 1932, less than two months before Adolf Hitler came to power. At the time Jabotinsky called to break the “demand for monopoly and rule” of the Histadrut labor federation in Palestine. This is the time to raise a no less emotional cry: Yes, break it! The demand for monopoly and unbridled rule of the right and the settlers in Israel.

This is a no less fateful cry than Jabotinsky’s. The domination of the settlers and anti-democratic right-wing circles is endangering the country far more than the Histadrut, against which Jabotinsky was fighting, endangered the nascent state.

One doesn’t buy stolen merchandise. Period. We can and must say that out loud, before this disgraceful law was passed and even more so after it was passed.

According to the new law of the new Israel, whose image is becoming distorted at alarming speed before our amazed eyes (and the eyes of the world ), it will be forbidden to say that. Now, even those who did not always read the small print on every container of salad and bag of pretzels from Barkan, mushrooms from Tekoa and wine from the Golan, are called on to boycott these products. Now these are no longer products of the settlements – now it’s the regime.

Now we call not only on those who consider the damage caused by the settlements to be decisive, but also those who fear for the character of the country and the society in which they live – to boycott.To boycott, boycott and boycott. Not only the products of injustice, but the unjust regime as well. This law must now be boycotted.

Is the attorney general stammering? The public that cares must not stammer like him. In that sense there is actually value to the Boycott Law and its ilk, its predecessors and the laws that will follow it. The more they multiply, the more anger and protest will erupt. Maybe they will finally arouse the Israelis from their apathy in light of what is being done in their name and what is being done to them.

It’s not the settlements, dummy, it’s all of us. Now we’re not talking only about what is happening in the land of the occupation, which is far from the eye and the heart. Now it’s already close to home, and this house is on fire.

There is only one important aspect to this Boycott Law. It shows the Israelis what they may and may not say. The subject that was the cause of the stormiest public controversy in Israeli society, until it curled up in its complacency, desperation and lack of interest, has now become taboo by dint of the most illegal law that the Knesset has ever passed.

In that way Israel’s most significant asset is being destroyed – the asset of being an open and democratic society. Israel’s friends in America and Europe understand that, but in Israel people don’t even begin to understand. The price of disposable diapers is still causing far more excitement than the price of those suffocating diapers with which the Knesset has wrapped the public discourse in Israel.

If the public (and the Supreme Court ) surrender now to the edict, an unforeseeable shower of edicts will follow. Ask the Danons and the Elkins what else they have up the barrel of their gun, which is firing straight into the heart of democracy. Today calling for a boycott is forbidden, tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for an end to the occupation. Today it is forbidden to call for refraining from buying Ahva (Brotherhood ) brand halva. Tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for brotherhood between Jews and Arabs.

Wait – wait and see. The meager Israeli discourse will become even more threadbare, due to the silencing laws. That’s why this is the time, this may be the last call: Boycott. Boycott those who are boycotting Israeli democracy.

Anti-Democratic, Editorial, Jewish Chronicle, 14.07.11

This newspaper, along with almost the entirety of Anglo-Jewry, does everything within its power to oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

It is a moral disgrace, and its supporters deserve every ounce of the opprobrium they receive from all decent people. But the response of the Knesset this week, in effectively silencing the proponents of BDS, is not merely misguided and an own goal; it is a betrayal of the very essence of Israel.

When boycotters berate Israel, we have always been able to point out the hypocrisy of their focus on the one truly free country in the Middle East. That argument will no longer hold water if the new law is allowed to remain on the statute books. It is the very negation of democracy, and of what Israel stands for – freedom to express views which are defeated in argument. As for the behaviour of Benjamin Netanyahu, in simply absenting himself from the vote: so much for leadership. If he thinks the law is wrong, he should have led by example and voted against. This law must be overturned, and soon.

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