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Israel's president calls BDS a 'strategic threat'

The resources and attention Israel’s government is investing in fighting BDS indicates that the Palestinian-led boycott movement is making serious inroads.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin held an “emergency” meeting Thursday with the heads of Israel’s universities and colleges to discuss the academic boycott, which he described as a “strategic threat.”

Israeli institutions and officials have begun addressing the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement more seriously and investing more resources into fighting it in recent months and years.

New Israeli minister of strategic affairs and public diplomacy, Gilad Erdan, reportedly conditioned his entry into the government on the allocation of adequate funds for fighting BDS.

In the meeting with President Rivlin on Thursday, Technion University President and head of a council of university presidents, Peretz Lavie, warned that “it’s still possible to stop the [BDS] snowball but we are in the eleventh hour.”

Rivlin told the university presidents that he has been taken by surprise by the momentum the academic boycott movement is achieving.

“I didn’t think that there would be a real danger to Israeli academia but the atmosphere in the world is changing,” Rivlin said. In the new reality, the president continued, Israel must treat BDS “as a strategic threat of the highest degree.”

BDS has successfully entered the mainstream in recent years. Whereas Israelis’ contact with the BDS was once relegated to the occasional foreign musicians refusing to perform in Tel Aviv, is now being felt in academic forums across the world, as international corporations pull out of Israeli public works projects, and major investment and religious institutions begin divesting from companies that do business with Israel.

The non-violent grassroots movement modeled on South African anti-apartheid campaigns is viewed by a threat by many in Israel. Of the movement’s three demands — an end to the occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a resolution for Palestinian refugees of 1948 — Israelis specifically cite the refugee issue as a veiled attempt to undermine Israel’s Jewish identity.

On the other hand, Palestinians and supporters of the boycott movement argue that BDS simply demands that Israel end the occupation and fully respect Palestinian rights, without prejudging any political outcome.

Up until recently consensus wisdom in Israel was that despite increasing gains and small isolated victories, the boycott is a marginal movement. By allocating significant resources to fighting it and describing BDS as...

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BDS is not a Zionist movement

The Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is not about the number of states, it’s about a just outcome that guarantees basic rights for everyone.

Liberal Zionists and progressive Jews have a hard time with the BDS Movement. Many liberal Zionists very much want to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign as a non-violent vehicle for opposing the occupation. Unfortunately, they quickly find that they have difficulties with its clearly-defined goals and tactics, the way it defines those goals, and sadly, the fact that it is a Palestinian-led movement.

Coming at the tail end of countless failed peace processes, BDS (short for boycott, divestment and sanctions) is at the helm of an effort to shift the world’s understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward a rights-based discourse. For subscribers of this paradigm shift, the Palestinians’ biggest problem is not the denial of national self-determination. Statehood, or the two-state solution, is a means, not an end in itself. Any political structure that grants Palestinians — and Israelis, for that matter — basic fundamental rights and equality is an acceptable outcome.

The liberal Zionist perspective cannot accept such an approach. In fact, it seems some liberal Zionists cannot even register it. In a recent Haaretz op-ed, Bradley Burston demands a set of crystalized goals from the BDS Movement:

I’m just asking for clear goals. And straight talk. I want to know if BDS wants to encourage two states … or if the goal is a one-state Palestine. I believe that a boycott can only work if its organizers are clear about what they want to achieve.

Short of disbanding the country altogether, is there anything that Israel can do, that would satisfy the conditions for an end to the boycott campaign?


Burston’s article is astounding in three ways, all of which are symptomatic of the wider, liberal Zionist community that at least partially defines itself with its opposition to the occupation.

Firstly, the BDS Movement has a website. It may not be the prettiest use of HTML in the history of the Internet, but it is easily navigable and states quite clearly what the movement’s goals and demands are. Here, let me Google it for you. Hell, you don’t even need to Google it: the Wikipedia page on BDS has an entire section outlining its goals.

Second is the binary paradigm through which liberal...

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WATCH: IDF soldiers threaten Palestinian child with false arrest

Israeli soldiers have been filmed harassing the boy’s family in recent weeks, using their home as a photo set, raiding it for no apparent reason.

Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian city of Hebron threatened to arrest a 14-year-old Palestinian boy simply for being in the vicinity of people throwing stones last month.

In a video released by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in recent days, Israeli soldiers can be seen detaining the child, Maher Abu Haya, near his family home on April 6, 2015.

In the video, the soldiers argue with the child’s father. At first the soldiers claim that Maher was running away from them with other Palestinian youths who were throwing stones. Quickly, the soldiers change their story and admit that Maher wasn’t running away at all.

“Next time, he’ll pay for it,” one of the soldiers says in Hebrew. “He’ll have a big mess.”

Whenever stones are thrown, a soldier claims, Maher is nearby. The soldier doesn’t seem to comprehend that there might be other reasons than throwing stones for a 14 year old to be standing outside his own home.

“Every time somebody’s throwing rocks we see this kid,” an English-speaking soldier says. “If I see his face again — I don’t care if I see him throw rocks or not, he’s gonna go with us.”

“He’s going to go with me and he’s going to be tied up all night,” the soldier continues threatening Maher’s father. “And he’s gonna get punished and you’re going to need to pay to take him back.”

To sum up, the soldier says that even though the 14-year-old boy has not committed a crime, and even if he does not commit a crime in the future, he will illegally arrest him, keep him shackled all night long, and force his family to pay some sort of bail to release him.

According to B’Tselem, the family has been the target of Israeli military harassment in recent months. The human rights organization released video of soldiers entering the Abu Haya family home for no apparent reason.

Another video shows dozens of soldiers climbing onto the family’s roof, without their permission or even telling them what was happening — to take a group photo.

While Israeli soldiers go to extraordinary lengths to locate and arrest Palestinians...

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Segregation in Israel does not begin or end on buses

Whether or not the plan is scrapped, the fact is that Israel is a country where senior ministers propose and implement segregation — and keep their jobs.

There is something disturbingly disingenuous about the 12 hours of furor that erupted over the segregation — and subsequent “desegregation” — of a handful of Israeli bus lines Wednesday morning. When Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the “unacceptable” segregation scheme suspended, a sigh of relief could be heard sweeping through mainstream Jewish Israel.

Democracy lives to see another day; the separation barrier once again kept segregation from infiltrating the Green Line.

The bus segregation sparked outrage in Israel not because of the segregation itself (a majority of Israelis support the idea), but because it took place within Israel proper. Palestinian workers’ morning commutes — originating in the West Bank — are already segregated. But heaven forbid that someone be discriminated against — on the basis of nationality — on a public bus originating in Tel Aviv, in Peter Beinart’s “democratic Israel.”

The international community might only recognize Israeli sovereignty within the 1949 armistice lines, but Israel makes no such distinction. True, the Israeli army — not the Israeli government — is technically the sovereign power in the West Bank. But the generals take their orders from the government. Thus, a single Israeli regime run by a single government with a single set of ministers, rules over the entire area between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.

Under this singular regime, not only do segregated bus lines already exist, there are also segregated towns, cities and villages; there are segregated legal systems. In the same small plot of land ruled by a single regime, one population has freedom of movement — the other does not. One population has freedom of political expression and the right to protest — the other does not. One population has a right to unionize — the other does not. One population has the right to live with their spouse and family — the other does not. One population has the right to walk down certain streets — the other does not. One population must live in fear of losing their home if a loved one commits an atrocious crime — the other does not. One population receives state support...

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European leaders: Find ways to hold Israel accountable for occupation

Former European officials urge a new two-state approach that includes more pressure and fewer Americans. But can the EU ever bring enough pressure to change Netanyahu’s calculus?

The Oslo peace framework is obsolete, Netanyahu is disingenuous about a two-state solution, European funding for the Palestinian Authority only perpetuates the occupation, and the United States has never been an objective peace broker — that is what a group of 19 former prime ministers, foreign ministers and senior EU figures wrote in a letter to the European Union’s top leadership this week. (Read the full letter below.)

The top-ranking group of former officials, which calls itself the European Eminent Persons Group (EEPG), has sent very similar letters in the past. Signatories include former presidents and prime ministers of Ireland, France and the Netherlands, former foreign ministers of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, and former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solano, among others.

The former statesmen and diplomats are calling on the EU to ratchet up its stalling sanctions regime against Israeli settlement activity, to back Palestinian steps in the UN Security Council and other international bodies, and to demand greater adherence to human rights standards by both sides.

“Standards of living and human rights in both [Palestinian] territories have sunk shockingly low. It is no longer possible for the EU to allow these conditions to continue without grave risk to its international reputation and to its long-term interest in the stability of its neighbourhood,” the EEPG letter declared. “The EU needs to decide on its priorities.”

The letter’s boldest proposal is for the European Union to take the lead in designing a new approach toward a two-state solution — with or without Washington. “Hiding behind American leadership on the politics of the dispute is unedifying and unproductive,” the former officials write.

The European Union already has carrots and sticks on the table, both of which it shyly brandishes from time to time. Brussels has promised Israel near-full integration into the EU marketplace as a reward for achieving a two-state solution. Alternatively, it has warned that there will be “no more business as usual” if the peace process is abandoned — hinting at but never explicitly threatening its free trade agreement with Israel.

Israel, for it part, generally ignores the pressure tactics and mini-sanctions. And what effect does the EU believe its sanctions on kosher wine and organic poultry will have on Israeli...

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WATCH: Racism-filled march curbs Palestinian movement in Jerusalem

High Court dismisses petition to re-route the ‘Jerusalem Day’ march away from the Muslim Quarter, but tells police it expects them to act against the type of racist incitement for which the ‘March of the Flags’ is notorious.

Two Jerusalem-based NGOs on Monday lost a legal battle to keep Israel’s hyper-nationalist, racist and often violent “March of the Flags” Jerusalem Day procession from passing through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City later this week.

The High Court, while dismissing a petition by Ir Amim and Tag Meir, did tell police that it expects them to arrest and press charges against participants who make racist and inciting chants, like “death to Arabs,” which have become a staple of the annual march.

“Anyone who says ‘death to Arabs,’ we are of the opinion that he must be punished, and the police needs to have the same understanding,” Justice Rubinstein said in the hearing on Monday. “This is not freedom of speech but the freedom to incite.”

The NGOs launched a campaign earlier this month to try and stop the march from passing through the Muslim Quarter. Each year, while permitting the nationalist march to proceed, police ban Palestinian residents from their own streets outside their homes and businesses — ostensibly in order to protect them from “March of the Flags” participants.

In a letter sent to Israeli authorities, the NGOs noted that public events like marathons and cycle races limit freedom of movement throughout the city all year long. The difference between those events, however, is that on Jerusalem Day freedom of movement is decided by one’s ethnicity and nationality, not participation in a marathon or bicycle race.

Palestinian shopkeepers are told to shutter their stalls and stores ahead of the march

“Restricting freedom of movement solely on an ethnic-national basis is not acceptable in a democratic state,” Attorney Eitay Mack wrote on behalf of the organizations.

Most of the arrests on Jerusalem Day in recent years have been of Palestinians protesting the march, and police have assaulted and detained Israeli and Palestinian journalists covering those events. This year, activists are planning to film the march with an aim at documenting whether police heed the High Court’s warning and arrest Jews making racist and inciting chants.

Jerusalem Day is billed as a celebration of the city’s “reunification” in 1967. In practice,...

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No charges for officers involved in Kafr Kanna killing

Netanyahu and the Israel Police offer diametrically different responses to two cases of police violence, one against an Ethiopian Israeli and another against an Arab citizen of Israel. When it comes to police brutality, it seems that even racism stinks of discrimination.

Two separate cases of police violence against Israeli citizens were caught and recorded by CCTV cameras over the past six months.

The first incident involved a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Kheir Hamdan. Last November, Hamdan approached a police van in Kafr Kanna and started banged on its window with an object. When he fled, officers exited their vehicle and shot him in the back, then dragging his body into the van like a sack of flour.

The second incident involved an off-duty Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent, Damas Pakedeh. Last week, two police officers stopped Pakedeh while he was walking his bicycle down the street and assaulted him for no apparent reason. When video of the assualt came out, the two officers were summarily fired.

On Tuesday, the Israeli police internal affairs division (PID) announced it was closing its investigation into Hamdan’s death. No charges will be brought against the officers who killed him.

Following Hamdan’s killing, mass protests broke out in Kafr Kanna. Hours later, Netanyahu said the protesters would “be punished with utmost severity.” The prime minister even said his government would “evaluate revoking the citizenship” of some protesters.

When the video of Pakedeh’s beating was published, Ethiopian-Israelis also took to the streets and police also violently suppressed their demonstrations. That’s where the two stories diverge.

While the Ethiopian protests were still raging Sunday evening, Netanyahu sent out a different type of message, a calming message: “All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances.”

A day later Netanyahu convened meetings with Damas Pakedeh, five ministers, the heads of nearly every Israeli law enforcement agency and a number of representatives of the Ethiopian community. Among the published conclusions of that meeting was: “The Israel Police will evaluate the claims of Israelis of Ethiopian descent regarding discrimination and will act to eradicate such phenomena.” Netanyahu personally added: “We must all line up against racism, condemn it and work to eradicate it.”

Notice a change in tone? This is the same prime minister who described Arab suffrage in Israel as a threat to...

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Redefining civilians and legitimate targets: Israeli soldiers testify on Gaza war

Two themes are present in almost all of the 60-plus testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence from Israeli soldiers who fought in the last Gaza war: loose rules of engagement and systematic, wanton destruction. But can the new documentation serve as a catalyst for change inside Israel? Internationally?

By Mairav Zonszein and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans, released on Monday a collection of testimonies from nearly 70 soldiers and officers who participated in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer.

It has been 10 months since the 50-day assault, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians, injured over 11,000, damaged or destroyed over 18,000 residential units and left more than 100,000 people homeless.

While the public debate in Israel has been all but silent regarding the operation, individual soldiers and officers began breaking their silence almost immediately after the final cease-fire went into effect.

Reading through the 136 pages of testimonies from soldiers and officers from nearly every involved division and brigade, two common denominators quickly become apparent. First is the massive, intentional and unnecessary destruction of homes and buildings throughout the Strip, but particularly in places that ground troops set foot.

One of the high rank commanders, he really liked the D9s [armored bulldozers]. He was a real proponent of flattening things. He put them to good use. Let’s just say that after every time he was somewhere, all the infrastructure around the buildings was totally destroyed, almost every house had gotten a shell through it. He was very much in favor of that

— Testimony #37

The second theme, central to nearly every testimony collected from nearly every unit involved in the fighting, was the massive volume and scope of fire employed.

The soldiers’ testimonies point — explicitly and implicitly — to an extremely lenient open-fire policy.

“If you spot someone, shoot.”

“They told us: ‘There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there’.”

“If you shoot someone in Gaza it’s cool, no big deal. First of all, because it’s Gaza, and second, because that’s warfare.”

— Testimony #17

According to estimates provided to and reached independently by Breaking the Silence, at least 35,000 artillery shells were fired during the operation. (Read more here on the use of artillery and “statistical...

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MK says advocating for two-state solution is treason

Freshman Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal accuses a former Israeli Foreign Ministry director of committing a capital offense: advocating for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Right-wing elements in Israel have long claimed that the two-state solution is national suicide. Logically, it follows that advocating for such an outcome would constitute treason.

That was exactly the view espoused by former journalist and high-profile freshman Knesset Member Yinon Magal of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party on Tuesday.

On his Facebook page, Magal posted a video published on +972 Magazine last month, in which former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel discusses how he is lobbying European countries to recognize the State of Palestine.

By advocating for a Palestinian state — with East Jerusalem as its capital — Liel is encouraging ceding “sovereign” territory that the world doesn’t recognize as Israel’s, to a “state” that Israel doesn’t recognize as existing. At least that is Magal’s logic.

“In addition to the fact that, in my opinion it is reckless behavior, it violates section 97(b) of the penal code,” Magal concluded.

Section 97(b) is the first subsection defining treason in the Israeli penal code.

Magal clarifies that he does not think Liel should be sentenced to death, but is adamant that he has committed treason — for advancing the two-state solution.

Because of the drawn-out process of forming a new coalition there have not been many opportunities for freshman MKs to make headlines since the elections. But it is indicative of the type of rhetoric we can expect to see over the next four years in the fourth Netanyahu government.

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WATCH: IDF officer gets prison for throwing stones at journalists

The incident is not the first time Israeli security officials have been documented attacking journalists at West Bank protests, and in the village of Nabi Saleh.

An IDF officer videotaped throwing rocks at Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists last week was sentenced to two weeks in prison. A second officer was sentenced to 30 days confinement on base.

In a video first published by +972 and Activestills on Friday, a deputy company commander can be seen throwing rocks at a freelance Israeli photojournalist and a Palestinian photographer who works for Agence France‑Presse (AFP). One of the officers also tackled the Israeli photographer, Haim Schwarczenberg.

A brigade-level disciplinary hearing sentenced the two officers from the Kfir Brigade for their conduct, Haaretz reported.

Before watching video of the incident provided to it by +972, the IDF Spokesperson described the officers’ behavior toward the journalists as “reasonable force.”

After watching the +972 video, the military spokesperson said the incident would be looked into and later told Haaretz that “the behavior seen in the video is reprehensible.”

Although the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit provided +972 with two separate statements on the video last week, it has yet to respond to our queries following the sentencing of the two officers. This post will be updated if and when a response is received.

The incident is far from the first time Israeli security officials have been documented attacking journalists and human rights workers in Nabi Saleh and at other regular protests in the West Bank.

Israel is currently imprisoning or detaining 20 Palestinian journalists, including some who are held without charge or trial under administrative detention, according to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.

Late last year the Israeli cabinet approved a draft measure that would increase the criminal penalty for stone-throwing to 20 years in prison. The measure would not apply to the West Bank, however, which due to its status as occupied territory falls under military law.

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Congress: There is no legitimate form of Palestinian resistance

Congress uses U.S. trade policy to undercut European pressure against Israeli settlements. A new U.S. bill legitimizes Israeli settlements and delegitimizes Palestinian non-violent resistance to the occupation.

The United States Congress is about to pass a law that erases the Green Line and delegitimizes one of the most effective non-violent tools Palestinians have for fighting the 48-year-old Israeli occupation.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act legally authorizes the White House to negotiate and sign trade deals. An amendment in that bill now defines Washington’s principal objectives in those negotiations to include the discouragement of boycott, divestment and sanctions moves against Israel, including non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services or commerce.

The bill defines such boycott, divestment and sanctions actions as any actions “that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

The key term here is, “or in Israeli-controlled territories.” That term is specifically used in Israel to refer the Israeli presence in the West Bank, including the settlements. To put it simply, Congress is saying that as far as it is concerned, there is no difference between Tel Aviv and the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Another point of immense importance is the inclusion along with BDS, “politically motivated non-tariff barriers.” Because the amendment specifically applies to trade talks with Europe, that wording should be understood as a response to increased efforts by the EU to ensure that its trade agreements and financial relationships with Israel do not cross the Green Line. That means labeling settlement products, limiting financial cooperation and lending to companies that operate in the settlements and the withdrawal of agricultural inspection certificates for Israeli goods produced in the West Bank.

Now the executive branch of the United States will be mandated “to discourage” such measures, which have become an increasingly central tenet of European foreign and economic policy vis-a-vis Israel. The measures are treated seriously because as a bloc, the EU is Israel’s single largest trading partner.

For over a decade the United States has consistently described Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “obstacles to peace,” “unhelpful” and “illegitimate.” In decades past, Washington joined the international consensus that settlements are illegal under international law.

The United States was single-handedly responsible for extracting commitments from late PLO Chairman...

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Sending the Palestinians to bed without dinner

By withholding the PA’s tax revenues, the Israeli government is effectively stealing Palestinian money. So why won’t the international community call it that?

At the end of last year the Israeli government announced that it would stop transferring Palestinian tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority. The move was explained, explicitly, as a punitive measure for the Palestinian ascension to the International Criminal Court. Conveniently, it also happened to take place at the start of Israel’s fast-paced election season.

The funds in question are tariffs and customs fees that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, which the Palestinian Authority cannot collect for itself, since Israel won’t allow it to control any sea or air port. The goods that are being taxed merely pass through Israel. According to the Paris Protocols, the economic section of the Oslo Accords, the tax money is Palestinian; Israel is just a middle man.

So when Israel refuses to transfer the Palestinian tax revenue, it is stealing. Except nobody calls it that, for two reasons. The first reason is that Israel is not a rogue state in the eyes of most of the world, and states don’t really steal — they have disputes, or they occupy, or nationalize or appropriate.

The second reason is that everyone involved — the Israelis, the Palestinians and the international community — knows that Israel will eventually give the money back. Every year or two, the Israeli government decides to withhold the tax funds, usually in response to some policy decision that doesn’t strike its fancy. It waits a few months until the international pressure grows — and the Palestinian Authority inches toward collapse — before giving it back.

So what does withholding the tax funds accomplish? Firstly, it means that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lose part of their income. The first thing that the Palestinian Authority slashes when it starts to run out of money is salaries — the salaries of 180,000 civil servants, each of whom supports a family.

PHOTOS: Israel cuts off Palestinian power twice in one week

Withholding tax funds, or holding up the monthly income of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families, is Israel’s way sending the Palestinian Authority to bed without dinner. The Israeli government is saying: your behavior is not acceptable, and although we are not going to do anything too dramatic, we want you to hurt...

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High Court upholds controversial 'boycott law'

High Court rejects petition against the law, gives grounds to allows individuals who want to sue anyone calling for a boycott of Israel, or ‘areas under its control.’

The High Court rejected a petition by human rights organizations, upholding the controversial “boycott law” on Wednesday. The law give grounds for individuals to sue anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel, or areas under its control.

The court struck down only one section of the law, which establishes that one may seek punitive damages for a deliberate call to boycott without needing to prove actual damages. It appears that one will now need to show actual damages in order to win a lawsuit.

Justice Hanan Meltzer, who wrote the majority opinion, ruled that a call to boycott is not consistent with the true purpose of freedom of expression, and therefore is not protected speech. He went on to describe boycott calls as “political terrorism,” adding that the state has a right to defend itself from them.

The human rights organizations that challenged the law responded to the ruling by saying that the High Court failed to protect the freedom of speech. “The Anti-Boycott Law is a law to ‘shut mouths.’ Its sole purpose is to silence legitimate criticism. The Court’s decision allows sanctions on freedom of expression and the right to political action concerning hotly contested issues of debate.”

Nearly four years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed the Law to Prevent Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott, which rights groups challenged in court almost immediately. (Read a translation of the law itself here.)

The law was a direct response to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. It enables anyone who feels they were (or might be) harmed by a boycott, “solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control (read: settlements in occupied territory, MSO), in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage,” to sue for both punitive and compensatory damages.

The second part of the law targets institutions, organizations and individuals that rely on the State of Israeli for funding, special tax status or government tenders.

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

The law was never utilized, either in civil court or in the government’s discretion in funding...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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