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Everything you (never) wanted to know about Israel’s anti-boycott law

By Noam Sheizaf, +972 Magazine – 13 July 2011

A reader’s guide to democracy’s dark hour

What does the law say?

Basically, the anti-boycott law allows all those who feel they have been harmed by a boycott, whether against Israel or an Israeli institution or territory (i.e. the settlements in the West Bank) to sue the person or organization who publicly called for it, for compensation. This definition is very broad—even a simple call not to visit a place falls under it—and most important, the prosecutor plaintiff doesn’t even have to prove damages.

You can read the full text of the law here (it’s not long). The important part is this below (translation by ACRI):


1. In this bill, “a boycott against the State of Israel” – deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

Boycott – a civil wrong:

A.     Knowingly publishing a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel will be considered a civil wrong to which the civil tort law [new version] applies, if according to the content and circumstances of the publication there is reasonable probability that the call will bring about a boycott and he who published the call was aware of this possibility.

B.     In regards to clause 62 [A] of the civil tort law [new version], he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached by calling for a boycott against the State of Israel will not be viewed as someone who operated with sufficient justification.

C.     If the court will find that an wrong according to this law was deliberately carried out, it will be authorized to compel the person who did the wrongdoing to pay damages that are not dependent on the damage (in this clause – damages, for example); in calculating the sum of the damages for example, the court will take into consideration, among other things, the circumstances under which the wrong was carried out, its severity and its extent.

Check out Roi Maor’s analysis of the implications of this law and what it will mean:

[The boycott law] will have a significant and immediate practical effect. As of today, a wide range of people and groups who once called for a boycott will cease doing so. The space for debate and discussion in Israeli society will shrink right before our eyes.

How come this law passed three Knesset votes?

The key moments in the legislation process was a decision by Binyamin Netanyahu’s government (and by him personally, as he told the Knesset on Wednesday) to have the entire coalition back the law. This means that the law will have the automatic support of most of the Knesset members, and that even coalition members who oppose it won’t be able to vote against it. Once the bill passed Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee—controlled by the right—it was clear for the two final votes, which took place Monday night.

So, how did Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vote?

They didn’t. They avoided the vote. See the full roll-call from the Knesset vote.

When will the law take effect?

It already did. Starting yesterday (Tuesday), it is now illegal to call for a settlement boycott in Israel. The only part of the law which is not effective yet is article 4, which deals with the punishment on organizations that would support a boycott (they will be stripped of their special statues). This article, which is seen as a backdoor way to persecute civil society and leftwing organizations (more on this issue here), will be mde effective in 90 days.

Yesterday an Israeli Beitenu MK already threatened Arab MK Ahmed Tibi that he will be the first to feel the effect of the new law. “Whoever shows contempt for the law and stomps on it will be responsible for the outcome,” MK Miller told Tibi in the Knesset.

Is it really so bad? I heard there is a similar law in the US, and that in France, a court punished some group calling for boycott on Israel.

Those examples are very different from the Israeli law. The US legislation refers to boycott by foreign governments, and the French case had to do with a unique interpretation to a law concerning discrimination. In fact, a Knesset research report, prepared during the work on the boycott bill, concluded that it couldn’t find examples of similar laws in Western democracies, and resorted to citing examples from countries such as Venezuela, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As a result, the Knesset’s legal advisor filed an opinion stating that it would be very hard to defend this law in the High Court for Justice. The Government Attorney thinks it  is a “borderline case,” but he is willing to defend the law in court.

What about the High Court? I hear that it is likely to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

For that, Israel would need to have a constitution… But the answer is yes, many think that the court will kill the law or parts of it, and petitions on this issue has already been filed. Yet a verdict would take time, and more important, it might gravely hurt the Court’s own statues, as will be perceived as acting in against the will of the public (the right to override Knesset law is not formally granted to the Israeli high court, and therefore lies in the heart of a political controversy). Already, there are threats from leading politicians to the court not to intervene in this issue, or else they would limit the court’s power. This has become a true watershed moment for Israel.

Furthermore, there are those on the left who believe that going to the court would play into the hands of those who initiated the boycott law, and ultimately strengthen the ability of the right to introduce such pieces of legislation. Read this though-provoking piece from Yossi Gurvitz on this issue.

What about the Israeli public? Does it support this law?

Right now, yes. A poll found 52 percent of the public supporting the anti-boycott law, while only 31 opposes it.

Mike Asks: Is full boycott illigal as well?

Yes. for example, if an Israeli writes a letter to an foreign artist and suggest he’ll cancel his gig in Tel Aviv as long as the occupation goes on, he could be sued by the producer, and any other person who thinks this act hurts him. I guess that even by the bartender could sue – and they won’t have to prove damages. Calls for boycott of academic institutions are illegal too.

Alex asks regarding Foreign nationals in Israel – does the law include them too?

Yes. When in Israel, one needs to obey Israeli laws, including ones concerning damages. From what I heard from ACRI (Association of Civil Rights in Israel, which has been in the frontline of the struggle against the law), the anti-boycott law would include foreign nationals as well – as long as they make the boycott call while in Israel. One reservation is that it’s not a criminal law, so you need someone to actually sue you for damages, and the court needs to be able to collect them. My guess is that if this law remains active,  rightwing and settlers’ organizations will become serial prosecutors plaintiffs of boycottes in order to silence dissent, and, of coarse, make some money on the way.

The law doesn’t apply to foreign nationals in the West Bank, which is under military rule and not Israeli civilian law. It does apply to Israelis everywhere in the world.

(via Mairav Zonszein)


Uri Avnery, will the Boycott Law make you stop calling to boycott the settlements?

12 July 2011

By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz – 11 July 2011

Uri Avnery, one of Israel’s most prominent left-wing activists and the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, is one of the most vocal critics of the so-called “Boycott Law.” This bill, which has the government’s backing, would impose various sanctions on any person or organization that publicly calls for an economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel in general or the settlements in particular. It was slated to come up for final approval in the Knesset plenum this evening, though a last-minute hitch may cause the vote to be postponed.

Uri Avnery, will the Boycott Law lead you to stop calling for a boycott of goods from the settlements?

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

“The boycott law is a sophisticated law. It doesn’t impose criminal sanctions on someone who calls for boycotting the settlements. If it did, we wouldn’t have the slightest problem; we would go to jail. Instead, this law makes everyone who calls for boycotting the settlements liable for paying millions of shekels in compensation to the settlers.

“There is no limit to the sum that the settlers can demand of us in compensation for damages, without their even having to prove it [the damages]. If I call for boycotting the produce of Yitzhar, then every resident of Yitzhar will be able to sue me for millions of shekels in compensation. This could amount to astronomical sums. I think this is a move that has no precedent anywhere else in the world.”

If so, do you fear the law’s effect on protests against the settlements’ existence?

“This law makes it unequivocally clear that it isn’t Israel that controls the settlements, but the settlers who control Israel. How is it possible not to fear this law? We will have to deal with the matter and see how to oppose it.

“This is most the draconian law in the history of Israel. Obviously I am concerned. It’s not a hollow, demonstrative law that is empty of content. It is a substantive law that turns the dictatorship of the settlers into the basis of Israeli law.”

But perhaps imposing boycotts is a problematic and dangerous tool? Perhaps the struggle should not be aimed at harming the settlers’ livelihood or their cultural life?

“There are dozens of boycotts in Israel every day. The religious impose boycotts on nonkosher stores. From their point of view, this is absolutely all right. No one can force them to buy in a store that sells pork or prevent them from announcing the boycott with posters in the streets.

“Vegetarians can boycott stores that sell meat. The secular can boycott religious people whom they don’t like. The religious [i.e the ultra-Orthodox] boycott bus companies that don’t separate men and women. The list is endless.

“All of us at one time boycotted products from South Africa. We boycotted the Soviet Union when it would not let Jews out. In 1933, all Jews boycotted the produce of Nazi Germany. Only one boycott has been banned – a boycott of the settlements. They are holier than all the other holies. We have created a monster here.

“You and I financed the cost of establishing the settlements out of our taxes. With our tax money, the Israel Defense Forces protect these settlements. With our tax money, infrastructure for water, electricity and roads is built on every far-flung illegal outpost. And now we see that the settlers have taken over the state.”

This law bans boycotts against the State of Israel in general, and as part of that, boycotts against the settlements. But you have voiced strong criticism only of the provision regarding boycotts against the settlements.

“Boycotts of the settlements are the reason for this law. All the rest is decoration. The articles that relate to the entire state of Israel can’t be implemented and are stupid.

“The fact that the law was drafted to prevent boycotts of the settlements was stated explicitly during a discussion of the matter by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by David Rotem. No one is trying to hide anything here.

“As for boycotts of the State of Israel, we all oppose that. I’m opposed to it. I’ve fought against it in dozens of lectures and speeches that I’ve given abroad.”

The law does not call for punishing citizens who participate in a boycott, only those who publicly call for carrying it out. In principle, no one would say anything to Israeli citizens who decided, for example, not to buy produce from the settlements.

“That is completely clear. The law does not threaten people who carry out the boycott, it threatens only those who call for a boycott. But calling for a boycott is like any other statement in a democratic country: It is a basic act of political and democratic expression.

“In America, during the black civil rights movement, they boycotted thousands of businesses that discriminated against blacks. Is it conceivable that anyone would punish someone who called for a boycott of this kind? Until not too long ago, there were hundreds of clubs in the United States that would not let Jews enter, and the Jews announced a boycott of them. Is it conceivable that anyone would have prevented this? That would be anti-democratic.

“This law is at bottom anti-democratic. It fundamentally undermines equality: Boycotts of one kind are permitted while boycotts of another kind are banned.”

The attorney general has announced that he will defend the law in its present version if a petition against it is submitted to the High Court of Justice. How do you explain the contradiction between his statement and your claim that the law is anti-democratic?

“The settlers have succeeded in terrorizing the prosecution and the legal system. These are the same settlers and hilltop youths whom we saw just last week blocking roads on behalf of settler rabbis who supported the murder of gentile babies.

“We don’t realize how quickly we are racing toward the abyss – not only toward a state governed by Jewish law, but a state in which the settlers’ rabbis rule. This is a dictatorship pure and simple, and a vengeful one.

“I spent the first 10 years of my life in Germany. I saw how Hitler rose to power. There was no great revolution when he rose to power. Nothing dramatic happened. It was a small step.

“When my father decided to leave Germany a few months after the Nazi regime came to power, all his relatives told him he was crazy. Today, all their names written on the list of Holocaust victims in that city’s town square.

“We are on a fast track to a regime of that kind. All my life I dreaded having to say those words. I always said: ‘Forget it, you can’t compare anything to the Nazis.’ That was a mistake. I’m sorry I spoke like that.”

Rachel Avnery, your wife of 58 years, died this May, and an evening to remember her will take place in Tel Aviv’s Tzavta Theater on Wednesday. In the notice you published, you said she was “a partner to the struggle.”

“I wanted this not to be a memorial service. There was no one who met her who wasn’t impressed by her unique personality. Rachel was a teacher for 28 years and taught only first and second grades. Hundreds of children were her pupils, but no one forgot her. Men of 40 stop me in the streets, as do middle-aged women, and tell me, ‘Rachel changed my life.’

“She was a life partner and a partner to the struggle. We were a single entity for 58 years. When someone loses an arm, he continues to feel as if it were there. I find myself in the same position. When I hear something, I want to run and tell it to Rachel, and then I have to remind myself that there is no one to tell. She had a very, very great influence on me.

“Rachel was not buried. At her request, her body was cremated and the ashes were scattered. Therefore, all those who loved her did not have an opportunity to take leave of her. This evening is going to be a farewell evening.