Meet Israel’s newest law, enabling civil suits against citizens calling for domestic boycotts against Israel or the territories. The law flies in the face of democratic protections of freedom of speech. Ben Caspit, columnist from Maariv, asks what’s next? “At this rate, we will very soon have to go around with a booklet detailing what we can say and what we can’t. ”
The law enables any individual or company claiming damages resulting from calls to boycotts to sue any other. As Matt Duss pointed out, “Under this new Israeli law, the Montgomery bus company could sue Martin Luther King for damages.”
Coverage is spreading across the Anglo media, doing harm to Israel’s standing as a democracy as it goes, in the NY Times, AFP, BBC, Reuters, Gaurdian and others. The most comprehensive information about the bill is posted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, including a democratic/anti-democratic comparison to similar American laws. Meanwhile, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement is circulating a pledge for civil disobedience and, barely 24 hours into law, already MKs from Yisrael Beiteinu are using it to sue Arab legislators.
I’ve collected below the past 24 hours of opining against the wisdom of this bill, from both sources expected and unexpected. I have yet to find support for this bill. [Update: two sponsors of the bill opine in English, I encourage you to make your views known to Ambassador Michael Oren.
Anti-Defamation League, “Knesset Anti-Boycott Law May Infringe On Basic Democratic Rights“
We are, however, concerned that this law may unduly impinge on the basic democratic rights of Israelis to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Among Israel’s many assets is its vibrant democracy – a fact clearly supported by the six-plus hour debate of this bill in the Knesset. To legally stifle calls to action – however abhorrent and detrimental they might be – is a disservice to Israeli society. We hope Israel’s Supreme Court will quickly take up a review of this law and resolve the concerns it raises.
New Israel Fund, Action Alert: Don’t Boycott Democracy! (click to email Ambassador Oren!)
The “boycott bill” criminalizing free speech is only one of many anti-democratic measures that have been introduced in the Knesset. Other measures would cripple human rights organizations, further marginalize Israel’s Arab minority, constrict the right of peaceful protest or hamper an independent judiciary.
Commentary Magazine, “Israeli Boycott Bill Furor Missed the Point“
Though the legislation does not, strictly speaking, “ban” advocacy for boycotts, it does have the potential to infringe upon freedom of speech. As such, it is a mistake, and yet another in a long history of unforced errors made by the Jewish state in the battle for international public opinion.
…But the idea that the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live on the “wrong” side of the 1967 lines deserve to be singled out for boycotts or that violence against them can be rationalized is hardly an expression of civil debate.
The Jerusalem Post. “The Bad Boycott Bill“
Civil society has an unalienable right to organize 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, haredi activism against Shabbat desecration, rabbis’ calls to “boycott” potential Arab house-buyers in Jewish neighborhoods or left-wing opposition to the government’s settlement policy in Judea and Samaria.
Ben Caspit of Maariv, “Where is the Boundary?“
A few left wingers with whom I argued back then claimed that this was the first step toward a slippery slope that would be hard to get out of. I disagreed with them. But on one thing those left wingers who argued with me were right. In the last two years insanity has spread here. The right wing rules, and lawfully so because it was elected, but it is not just ruling, it is running amuck.
Along with this law, MK Yaakov Katz of the National Union is passing a law to pan any disparagement of entire groups. Saying “settlers are haters of Israel,” or “traitorous left wingers” will not be an offense. These is crazy. At this rate, we will very soon have to go around with a booklet detailing what we can say and what we can’t. Step by step, the booklet will by upgrade and will contain a detailed list of what is permissable to think and what is forbidden. We are not that far away from this.
Steve Clemons of The Atlantic,”Israel Kicks Down its Own Democratic Hill?“
Israel has just hoisted on itself the equivalence of a McCarthy-like witch hunt for those it feels might be traitors to the Greater Israel cause. These kinds of loyalty oath stunts and such government brittleness undermine democracy and narrow national debate during times when its smarter to keep the gates of ideas as widely open as possible.
The United States State Department, via Haaretz
“Freedom of expression, including freedom to peacefully organize and protest, is a basic right under democracy,” a State Department official said. “It is a right that the American people hold dear and it is among the democratic values that the Israeli and American people have long shared.”
The Knesset’s legal advisor, via Haaretz
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.
Bradley Burston of Haaretz, “The quiet sound of going fascist“
Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and 10 other cabinet ministers already know this. That’s why they failed to show up for the vote.
They stayed away because they know that this is the stain that may prove indelible. The Boycott Law is the litmus test for Israeli democracy, the threshold test for Israeli fascism. It’s a test of moderates everywhere who care about the future of this place.
This is the one. This is where the slope turns nowhere but down.
Updated 5:00 pm: The Zionist Organization of America, via Ron Kampeas
ZOA pres Mort Klein tells me org. opposes anti-boycott laws in principle. Mort Klein: “nobody was more appalled by the boycott of Ariel theater than me, but to make it illegal? I don’t think so.”
Updated 6:13 pm: Peace Now, “APN Deeply Concerned by New Israeli “Boycott Law”
Commenting on the new law, APN’s President and CEO, Debra DeLee said: “Yesterday was a black day for Israeli democracy. It is alarming that the Knesset, the very institution charged with safeguarding democracy, is systematically shrinking the space for free speech in Israel.”
Updated 7:15 pm: BBC Monitoring translates ten articles from Hebrew-language Israeli press, including Yediot Ahronot, Haaretz, Maariv, and others. Only Yisrael Hayom comes out in favor. (Hat tip Yakov Wolf.)
Updated 7/14 11:30 am:
The Forward, “We Can’t Say This”
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.
Jeffrey Goldberg, “Maybe It’s Time for American Jews to Boycott Netanyahu“
But let the opponents of boycotts make their best arguments against such boycotts — it has always been the Israeli way to fight bad ideas with better ideas. This new law is an entirely new thing — a bullying example of the tyranny of the majority in action. I’m confident the Israeli Supreme Court will overturn this dreadful law, but until it does, might I suggest a counter-boycott, by American Jews, of Israeli politicians, up to and including the prime minister, who support the curtailing of free speech in Israel?
The UK Jewish Chronicle, “Anti-Democratic“
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.
British Ambassador to Israel, “Backlash as Israel gags boycotters“
Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, criticised the law. He said: “We are concerned with the ratification of a law that harms the legitimacy of freedom of speech and is against the strong Israeli tradition of vibrant and energetic political debate.”
Academic Friends of Israel, ibid.
Ronnie Fraser of Academic Friends of Israel said it “will make it more difficult to argue that Israel is an open democratic society with few restrictions on debate. Once again the Israeli government has failed to understand the problems for pro-Israeli activists in the diaspora.”
European Union, reported in Haaretz
“However, as part of such fundamental values as free expression and speech that the EU cherishes and shares with Israel, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation may have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations to express non-violent political opinions.”
Gershom Gorenberg, “Warning: This Article Is Illegal” (emphasis not mine)
In seeking to outlaw such dissent, the Knesset majority has carried out a classic abuse of power. This is part of a pattern. The current ruling coalition has mounted a legislative offensive against democratic norms. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu absented himself from the Knesset vote on the Boycott Act, but his government endorsed it and his party was the moving force behind it.
Update 7/15 11:41 am: UK Yachad, “Yachad defends right of Israeli to express their opinions”
Yachad will not join those who call for a boycott of Israeli produce because we believe in debate and we are opposed to a policy of isolation. However, we fiercely and unapologetically defend the right of Israelis and Jews to express their opinion as enshrined our tradition and as stated in Israel’s own Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty.
We can be justly proud of our distinguished tradition of dissent. But dissent is easy in the absence of political power. The real test is whether we can uphold our ideals in practice.
Adapted from a post to Judaism Without Borders.