Haaretz Editorial – 11 July 2011
Knesset members who vote for the anti-Boycott Law must understand they are supporting the gagging of protest in an effort to liquidate democracy
Today, the Knesset was slated to approve the final reading of the Boycott Prohibition Law, which imposes severe punishments on anyone who calls, directly or indirectly, for boycotting Israel. Inter alia, the law says any person or organization that calls for boycotting Israel, including by calling for a boycott of the settlements, would be deemed guilty of a civil offense. Organizations that call for boycotts would not be entitled to receive tax-deductible donations or obtain funding from the state.
This contemptible law blatantly violates Israel’s Basic Laws. It is couched in vague language: It defines “a boycott of the State of Israel” very broadly, while the definition of causing a boycott is fluid. Under the law, it would suffice for a call to boycott Israel to have “a reasonable possibility” of leading to an actual boycott for the lawbreaker (under the Torts Ordinance, New Version ) to be defined as having committed a civil offense. The lawbreaker would then be deprived of significant economic benefits and would also have to pay high compensation to those purportedly harmed by the boycott.
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 – which is controversial to begin with – are the main reason for the boycott initiatives, both domestic and foreign. The legislators are thereby trying to silence one of the most legitimate forms of democratic protest, and to restrict the freedom of expression and association of those who oppose the occupation and the settlers’ violence and want to protest against the government’s flawed order of priorities.
The law’s sponsors are also creating a mendacious equivalence between the State of Israel and Israeli society as a whole, on one hand, and the settlements on the other. They are thereby granting the settlers sweeping legitimization.
This is a politically opportunistic and anti-democratic act, the latest in a series of outrageously discriminatory and exclusionary laws enacted over the past year, and it accelerates the process of transforming Israel’s legal code into a disturbingly dictatorial document. It casts the threatening shadow of criminal offense over every boycott, petition or even newspaper op-ed. Very soon, all political debate will be silenced.
Knesset members who vote for this law must understand that they are supporting the gagging of protest as part of an ongoing effort to liquidate democracy. Such moves may be painted as protecting Israel, but in reality, they exacerbate its international isolation.
Amnesty International: Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression
By Amnesty International – 12 July 2011
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.
Israel passes law banning calls for boycott
by Jonathan Lis, Haaretz – 11 July 2011
Opposition blasts law, which penalizes persons or organizations who call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements, calling it unconstitutional and irresponsible
The Knesset passed Monday a law penalizing persons or organizations that boycott Israel or the settlements, by a vote of 47 to 38.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present during the vote. MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), who proposed the law, said the law is not meant to silence people, but “to protect the citizens of Israel.”
According to the law, a person or an organization calling for the boycott of Israel, including the settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they sustained damage. The court will then decide how much compensation is to be paid. The second part of the law says a person or a company that declare a boycott of Israel or the settlements will not be able to bid in government tenders.
MK Nitzan Horowitz from Meretz blasted the law, calling it outrageous and shameful. “We are dealing with a legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here,” he said. Ilan Gilon, another Meretz MK, said the law would further delegitimize Israel.
Kadima opposition party spokesman said the Netanyahu government is damaging Israel. “Netanyahu has crossed a red line of political foolishness today and national irresponsibility, knowing the meaning of the law and it’s severity, while giving in to the extreme right that is taking over the Likkud.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held discussions with Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin and MK Elkin. The three discussed whether to have the Knesset vote on the law on Monday, a day after MK Dan Meridor warned that approving the law on the same day of the Quartet meeting may cause damage to Israel. Before midnight on Sunday the prime minister’s office announced there is no reason to delay the vote.
Before the vote, the Knesset’s legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yanon, published a legal assessment saying parts of the law edge towards “illegality and perhaps beyond.” He went on to warn that the law “damages the core of freedom of expression in Israel.” Yanon’s assessment contradicts that of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who said the bill is legal.
Peace Now movement announced Monday it opened a Facebook page calling for a boycott of products that come from the settlements. On Tuesday it plans to launch a national campaign, with the aim of convincing tens of thousands of people to support the boycott.