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What is the anti-boycott law? Who does it affect?

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is set to pass (after some convoluted last minute wrangling) today one of the most anti-democratic measures in the country’s history, the so-called “Anti-Boycott Law.” A link to the full text’s translation can be found here.

Simply put, the law seeks to penalize those who call for boycotting Israel, the settlements, or anyone related to the occupation. If a person, for example, calls for a boycott of academic institutions that participate in the occupation, he could be sued in civil court, and ordered to pay compensation. If a company agrees not to purchase products manufactured in the settlements, it could be barred from government contracts. If an NGO joins the global BDS call, it could be stripped of its non-profit status, and compelled to pay taxes as if it was a commercial firm.

This law joins a long and ignominious list of legislative acts that have passed or been suggested in the past few years, that seek to reduce Israelis’ freedom of speech and assembly, and formalize discrimination of Palestinian Israelis. But it is also different from previously enacted legislation. Unlike the segregation law, it goes beyond enshrining an existing practice. And unlike the Nakba law, it 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.

Although only a small minority of Israelis have expressed support for BDS (and I am not one of them), their voice has been significant. At the very least, some very prominent cultural figures have called for boycotting the settlements, and now, if they persist, they could be in serious financial trouble. In some ways, the law is actually more effective than applying a criminal sanction, which has to be enforced by overstretched (and skeptical) police and prosecutors, and meet high standards of evidence. Even if the law is eventually thrown out by the High Court of Justice, in the meantime, the very threat of myriad lawsuits by determined settlers and hard right groups is enough to deter many boycott supporters, who do not have the means to conduct expensive legal battles.

This law is outrageous and wrong on so many levels; it is hard to know where to start. It punishes people for expressing an opinion, just because this opinion upsets the majority. It makes it difficult to pursue a peaceful and non-violent method of resisting the occupation. It is discriminatory in a lop-sided manner, hindering opposition to the evils of the occupation, while having nothing to say about racist boycotts of Arab workers, businesses and tenants. It aims to protect Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories from outside pressure, but surely it will only serve to highlight the country’s increasing penchant for oppression and discrimination.

The anti-boycott law’s effect is pernicious enough, but when you look at the situation it reflects, the picture becomes even grimmer. It represents a response to the growing BDS movement, but it clearly reinforces its major article of faith: that the strongest forces inside Israeli society are pushing in a dark direction, and any improvement for the Palestinians must rely on foreign intervention.

The counter-productive nature of this measure demonstrates that it is far from an ordinary act of repression. Instead, it exposes an Israeli polity that is incapable of engaging in debates, and responds to criticism with panicked attempts to silence it. It is more fearful of non-violent speech, for which it has no answer, than of violence, which it can quell with overwhelming force. In this sense, the anti-boycott law is almost a perfect encapsulation of Israel’s current predicament. And it is not a good omen.

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    1. Empress Trudy

      In other news it’s been proven time and time again that boycotts hurt the Arabs in Judea Samaria more than they hurt the Jews. So you should be cheering.

      Reply to Comment
    2. “This law is outrageous and wrong on so many levels; it is hard to know where to start.”


      (That means “I agree” ^5 power)

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    3. Johnny Heartbreaker

      Strange how e.g. White and Black Americans call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank – yet do not call for an end to their own occupation of the Native ‘American’ Indian land they stole through the act of mass genocide. It’s strange also that e.g. White and Black English also call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank – yet equally do not call for an end to their own occupation of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Malvenas and all the other occupied ‘British’ overseas territories.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Elihu

      The issue is not so clear-cut. It could be argued that this law merely provides an appropriate civil cause of action for those whom the BDS (Boycott- Divestment- Sanction) supporters mean to strangle economically – and, arguably, undemocratically. It seems doubly odd for those who would squash others by economic means to complain when their intended victim chooses to withhold its economic support (in the form of tax breaks, etc.) from them.

      Israel’s refusal to support its detractors in their declared efforts to undermine Israel’s economy and blacklist all of its academic and cultural institutions appears eminently reasonable in principle.

      Also, the discussion demands some memory of relevant history. the BDS Movement did not spring spontaneously from thin air We should bear in mind that Arab boycotts of Jewish and Zionist interests began well before 1948 when the modern state of Israel was recognized by the U.N. The Arab League boycott of Israel remains in effect today, administered by the Damascus-based Central Boycott Office (CBO), a specialized bureau of the Arab League. The Arab Boycott targets – as does the BDS boycott – not only Israel and her institutions, but also companies that do business in or with Israel. A fair read of the BSD Movement’s website reveals that ultimate goal of that movement, too, is the dismantling of the Jewish state – continuing the assault on her initiated by Arab armies in 1948- via economic means. Israel should not be expected to be complicit with those who would engineer her demise.

      Can it not be fairly argued that Israel has every right to re-level its economic playing field and provide its constituents with some legal ground for defending themselves against the tyranny of those who would use their economic might to preclude anyone from dealing or associating with the Jewish state, including its institutions and areas under its control? In 1977, the United States Congress passed laws making it illegal for U.S. companies to cooperate with the Arab boycott against Israel and authorizing the imposition of not only civil but also criminal penalties against U.S. violators. It seems only natural that Israel would enact civil legislation allowing it to protect itself, and preserve the freedom of its trade partners and its academic institutions to participate in the free market.

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    5. max

      @Roi, I read the translation and concur with Elihu. The law is strictly addressing financial damage and reserves the right to withhold – based on the court’s decision – government payments to the offending entities (not private persons, in this case). For all, it defines legal restrictions such as “he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached”.
      Based on previous readings, I thought it was much harsher. Based on the text you refer to, I see there no moral problem (though I understand that there’re legal issues that will probably be tackled by the Supreme Court).
      Obviously, you view it differently – how do you relate your view to the actual text?

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    6. Lea de Lange

      Judea and Samaria were destined for the Jewish people but the Jordanians managed to conquer it in 1948 and to keep it conquered for 19 years, till 1967. They than tried, again, like in 1948, to annihilate Israel. They attacked it together with other Arab countries on all sides and would surely succeed this time, so “the world” was sure of. They did not. Israel won that war, fighting succesfully for it’s life and in the proces winning Jerusalem, de Golan and Judea and Samaria, as well as other regions. Since than no official frontiers have been decided upon.
      In Judea Samaria live hundreds of thousands of Israeli’s, as is their legal right.
      To boycot those people, Israeli citizens and all they produce (preventing them from making a living and not only them but many many Arabs who work in the industries there) is unconstitutional. American groups cannot decide that New York should go back to the Indians and whatever is being produced there should be boycotted and not bought. They can refrain from buying what they wish but calling for a boycott cannot be tolerated. You can try in a political process to get enough votes for your kind of politics. In Israel the extreme left is not winning in size but declining, less and less people are willing to just give away the land of Israel to Arabs who already have many countries and a land mass 500 times the size of Israel.
      If the tiny far left Meretz Party wants Abu Mazen to have a state in Judea and Samaria they should grow a lot beyond their present 3 or 4 seats in the Knesset. That takes time? It does. But boycotting the products of your own countrymen, legally fabricated, income tax paid, is unconstitutional and should be prohibited. The law is a just law, it’s a shame that it is necessary.

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    7. Thanks for the explanation on this. However, I do not understand how this legislation will be implemented. What’s the exact definition of boycotting?

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    8. Deïr Yassin

      @ Lea de Lange
      “Judea and Samaria were destined for the Jewish people …”
      You mean like “GOD gave us this land” ?
      Just in case you might take your head out of the sand: according to the rest of the world and International Law, those around 530.000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not legal residents, but squatters of Palestinian land.
      But then again: what can International Law do against God’s Law …
      I’m always curious to know: if Judea and Samaria were destined to the Jewish people, what about Israel within the ’48-borders ? That was destined to be Jewish too ? And Iraq ? I mean, that’s where the Ancient Hebrews came from, according to their own ethnogenese.

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    9. Roi Maor

      @Max – Yesterday, someone who thought that the settlements were wrong, and people should not support this enterprise by purchasing their products, could say so freely. Today, they could very well face financial ruin. Many have stopped expressing their opinion on this issue, for that reason. The law does not apply to boycotts on any other grounds, including to boycotts based on racism.

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    10. max

      1. I’m against the law
      2. I can justify it
      3. There’s a context to it
      The way I understand it, the law is meant to redress a fundamental problem with this kind of boycott: the people who’ll suffer are ordinary people who followed the policy of all Israeli governments. They had no legal tool to fight back.
      Further, the law – according to the text you provided – stipulates restrictions such as requiring “reasonable probability” of damage and “causes a binding legal agreement to be breached”. So I don’t see how you reach your statement.
      Is this not the law? I only know what you provided…
      You’re right, it doesn’t specify financial boundaries, but leaves it to the courts.
      Unlike the US – more like the French case – I don’t see it being abused.

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    11. Richard Allen

      @ Lea de Lange–pretty much everything you said was ridiculous, but in particular, the claim that calling for a boycott is unconstitutional–guess what? We don’t HAVE a constitution!

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    12. To “deir yassin”: Evidently, you have no clue of what you are talking about. Israel is where it is today by right under international law, as it was recognized by the whole world in the early 1920s.

      This Jewish sovereign territory extends to the whole area west of the Jordan River. So, the next time you intend to use the word “occupation”, learn a bit, think a lot, and then, maybe, you will make some sense.

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    13. the worst bill was when the kgb/cia spy yitzhaq shamir yimach shemo banned the KACH party and thus ended israel being a democracy

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    14. Michael Davison

      Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: a boycott is a form of coercion, defined as “the use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance”. This is the same definition used for blackmail, which is a felony.
      If we can start fron this point, it is only fair and just to provide the victim with legal recourse.
      Should a Member of the Knesset be allowed to advocate a boycott of Israeli products in a public forum, using his/her status as a legislator, without being held accountable for their words?
      Should a state-supported NGO be allowed to freely advocate a boycott of the state that supports it financially?
      Should the UCU be allowed to boycott Israeli academics UNLESS they sign a declaration that they refute the policies of the Israeli government?
      Should a professor in a state-supported university be allowed to use his position as an academic to advocate a boycott of the state that pays his salary?
      If you can answer “No” to these questions, you’ve answered the question of whether this law is appropriate or not.
      I personally refuse to buy the products of an Israeli company that once hired me as their production manager to bring the company into compliance with ISO-9001 and the CE regulations, only to be fired and replaced by the son of the owner when ISO-9001 certification and CE compliance had been achieved. I will not buy one of their products before Hell freezes over.
      I also sued them (and won) in the Tel-Aviv Labor Court.
      The catch is that I am not a state-supported entity trying to coerce others into sharing my opinion and acting as I demand.

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    15. Right Wing Zionist

      @Deir Yassin
      Jews living in East Jerusalem are squatters because it’s Palestinian land huh? Let’s test this assertion. It is wrong on so many counts that I don’t know where to begin.
      1. It cannot be Palestinian Arab land because there never was a sovereign land called Arab Palestine.
      2. Before Israel took control of Jerusalem in 1967, it was under the control of Jordan but Jordan’s sovereignity was not recognised by most of the world.
      3. In 1947, the UN voted for Jerusalem to be under international control. At that stage East Jerusalem had a sizable Jewish population who lived in the city for milennia. But in 1948, the Jews were ethnically cleansed by the combined Arab legion and Palestinian Arab irregular forces. That turned East Jerusalem into a Jew free Arab city for 19 years, for the first time in the last 3000 years.
      That makes those Jews who returned to East Jerusalem in 1967 squatters?
      I guess, those who try to perpetrate this myth, believe that if they repeat a lie often enough, then the lie becomes truth.

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    16. Deïr Yassin

      @ Salomon
      Well, international law is not based on the Torah or whatever you might consider the base for your claims. The West Bank and East Jerusalem is occupied territory according to the UN, you know that ‘thing’ that recognized your State on other people’s land.

      Israelis living in East Jerusalem actually are squatters according to International Law. I don’t mind Jews living in East Jerusalem. I’ve already told you that I’m a One Stater, but Jews living in East Jerusalem implies that Palestinians ALSO have the right to move back to their pre-’48-homes – as far as I’m concerned that’s AKKA. As your colleague, Salomon, you tend only to see the Jewish point of view. A very common pathology among your folks called ethnocentric navel-gazing !
      All Jews and their descendants who were expelled from somewhere or lost property in ’48 should have the right to return and/or receive compensation. DITTO for the Palestinians ! That of course doesn’t concern American or Russian Jews squatting in Silwan.
      In your historical account, you just forgot to mention that the Zionists came from Europe and that the Jews in the Old Yichouv – and thus Jerusalem – were against the creation of a Jewish State. (cf. Yakov M. Rabkin).

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    17. Right Wing Zionist

      @Deir Yassin
      “Israelis living in East Jerusalem actually are squatters according to International Law”(Deir Yassin)
      Which international law says so? Your assertion?
      ” I’ve already told you that I’m a One Stater”(Deir Yassin)
      So? You don’t make the rules.
      ” but Jews living in East Jerusalem implies that Palestinians ALSO have the right to move back to their pre-’48-home”(Deir Yassin)
      Only if they end up controlling the territories. Otherwise they need Israel’s permission. Which they won’t get because Israelis don’t want to set up another Rwanda in which they would end up playing the role of the Tutsis.
      “you tend only to see the Jewish point of view. A very common pathology among your folks called ethnocentric navel-gazing”(Deir Yassin)
      Yeah, and you Arab folk are not ethnocentric, right? LOL!
      “In your historical account, you just forgot to mention that the Zionists came from Europe”(Deir Yassin)
      Not all of them, some lived there for many generations. And you forgot to mention that some Arabs were migrants from neighbouring Arab countries. That makes our account even.
      Moreover, what have you got against migrants? They have no rights to buy land, settle down and cultivate it without being attacked by incited mobs? Have they no right to self determination when the colonial power vacated the land? What are you? Some kind of Arab supremacist?
      “and that the Jews in the Old Yichouv – and thus Jerusalem – were against the creation of a Jewish State”(Deir Yassin)
      That is just plainly NOT true. Most native Jews of Palestine, with the exception of a small minority of extreme religious Jews (who await the Messiah) favoured self determination for the Jewish people (Israel). And even that small minority changed it’s mind after the bloody massacre of Hebron’s religious Jews in 1929 by Arab mobs who were incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem to kill Jews.
      You see, Deir Yassin? We too have grievances against Arabs. It’s not just the one way traffic that ypu wpuld have the rest of the world believe.

      Reply to Comment