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Boycott bill: A way to persecute the Israeli left

Under the guise of a bill against boycotts, the Knesset is muzzling the anti-settlement left

The Knesset’s Judicial Committee, led by MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu) approved yesterday the “boycott bill” for its final reading. This likely means that the bill will imminently become a law.

The former version of the bill (Hebrew) defined a boycott for political reasons on Israeli products, or products made in the settlements (defined in the bill as “areas under Israeli control”), to be a felony, and allowed suing people advocating such a boycott and fining them 30,000 NIS (about 9,000 USD) without any need to prove that the litigant was actually damaged by the boycott. The bill was also retroactive: It allowed for the retroactive punishment of people advocating a boycott: It allowed for the suing of people who advocated a boycott in the past, up to a year before the passing of the bill.

The version approved yesterday is somewhat different (ACRI’s translation here). The new version – oppsed, by the way, by the Treasury and the Foreign Office – is different in three ways from the original. First, the retroactive nature of the bill was removed, probably because that would be the excuse the SCJ would use to strike it down. Second, the amount of the fine is no longer fixed and is left for the decision of the court, though the litigant still does not have to prove he suffered any damage.

And third and most importantly, the bill is now wider: Where earlier on it targeted individuals, now it also targets corporations and NGOs. Article 4 (1) of the bill, for instance, seems to be an attempt to deny tax exemption status to left-wing NGOs, by denying organizations supporting a boycott of settlement products their status as a public institution. In a phone conversation, Hagai Elad, the CEO of ACRI, noted that an association who is not tax-exempt, cannot give its donors their usual tax deduction, which is an attack on it from two sides.

Article 4 further dictates that companies who supports a boycott on settlements – such as the Israeli companies who participate in the building of Rawabi, who are contractually obligated to refrain from buying settlement products – will not be eligible for government benefits or securities, to which other companies are eligible.

Elad estimates that the chances of the bills passing, in the current Knesset – which he claims is the “worst for democracy in the history of Israel”, apparently being unduly optimistic about the next one – to be quite high. In an ACRI press release, Elad said:

“Why should Israeli citizens be allowed to boycott Israeli cottage cheese, as we have heard and seen in recent weeks, but be barred from boycotting the occupation? This bill is politically motivated and unfortunately it is not the only bill promoted in Knesset these days that stands in contrast to democratic values. A boycott by consumers is a legitimate tool of protest and falls within the protection of freedom of expression. It is ironic that this bill will further enhance the criticism voiced against Israel.”

A representative of Coalition of Women for Peace, who was present in the committee debate, quoted Rotem as saying “international law is none of my interest.”

The boycott bill is also supported by several MKs from the so-called center party, Kadima. It is in effect the outlawing of an entire political camp, which considers the settlements to be a disaster for Israel. You won’t be able to say so when it passes – some settler NGO will take you to court, arguing this promotes a boycott and that you somehow hurt the business of some resident of Ma’aleh Dlilah. After all, it won’t have to prove any damage was sustained. Now it all depends on what remains of the opposition party – and it’s a good bet that Tzippi “Who? Me?” Livni won’t show up.

Update: The Prime Minister’s Office confirms government officials promoted the “gay on the flotilla” hoax, and refuses to deny its officials were involved in its production (Hebrew). Apparently Eli Yishai, the Minister of the Interior, did not get the memo that Israel is gay-friendly now; he denied citizenship to the gay consort of a Jewish immigrant, even though the Law of Return grants it. (Hebrew). Oops.

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    1. David

      This comment was deleted due to hateful content.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben Israel

      As I have pointed out repeatedly, the Left is treated with kid gloves by the police and the state prosecutors. Just a couple of days ago, the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hevron was stropped and dragged out of his car because he said some comments about the “Torat HaMelech” book. They are now threatening to arrest Rav Yaakov Yosef, son of Rav Ovadia Yosef on the same charge. They are also talking about firing the Chief Rabbi of Tsfat because of his recommendation that Jews rent only to other Jews. Now, please tell me, when has there been a similar sweep against the gurus of the Left?

      Reply to Comment
    3. The usual distortions from Ben Israel. Racism is illegal in Israel, and ordering your flock not to rent apartments to non-Jews is racism (note the way “Ben Israel” turns the issues upside down). Disregarding a summons for investigation will get arrested, no matter who you are. It’s only the rabbis who whine about it, thinking they’re above the law.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Raed Butrus

      I am excerpting Mr Hotarys comments which are relevant here
      Israel is an illegitimate state built on theft from the Palestinian people. Therefore, any support from the zionists is the equivalent of receiving stolen property. Anti-zionists such as myself suspect that the members of 972 are not committed to justice, but are a zionist front committed to keeping the theft of 1948, while hoping that by returning the theft of 1967, you will be able to deflect attention from the elephant in the room. In order to prove your committment to our struggle, you will have to make some financial sacrifice

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Israel

      I am referring to “freedom of speech”. Saying controversial things. If “racism” is against the law, so is incitement to murder and a prominent Leftist activist called for the murder of settlers. In the past, Ze’ev Strenhell did the same. The state prosecutor refused on both counts to file charges, saying…..guess what?…FREEDOM OF SPEECH!
      If the Rav of Tfat organized a vigilante group to run some Arabs out of town who rented a Jewish-owned apartment, then you might have something, but that is not the case here.

      Of course I turn things “upside down”. I view it as my job to take moralistic attacks the Left makes against the Right and point out how the Left is hypocritical and does the same things. If something is wrong, it is wrong for both side, but if one side is allowed to do something controversial, than so is the other side. It’s as simple as that.

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      Yossi, I doubt that people in Israel would be upset if the call to boycott would be limited to calls within Israel.
      The difference with the cottage cheese is the call to involvement of external forces, basically calling to curb Israel’s democracy using the power of the oh so democratic world.
      You may decide to do it anyway, assuming that internal opposition is futile, but then it’s ridiculous to hide behind “democratic values”.
      I also wonder where in the world do you observe the practical difference between Israel and The Territories…

      Reply to Comment
    7. Juca

      What? The settlement of Kiryat Arba was built ILLEGALLY by the sick racist Rabbi Levinger. Israel should immediately withdrawl from those territories and demolish ALL ILLEGAL SETTLEMENTS from occupied Palestine. That’s nothing to argue, IT’S ILLEGAL BY THE INTERNATION LAW.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sylvia

      @Raed Butrus
      “In order to prove your committment to our struggle, you will have to make some financial sacrifice”

      In order to prove your commitment to the values of universal justice which you so obviously uphold, I am sure you’re just as equally prepared to make some financial sacrifices yourself, and fight for the rights of one million Jewish refugees throughout the world who were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries.
      Jewish refugees from Arab-Muslim countries left lands totalling five times the size of the State of Israel and billions of dollars worth of assets.
      Jewish refugees from Arab-Muslim lands were in their great majority stripped of their citizenship and made homeless, they who lived in those lands long before Arab invasions and occupation. Jewish refugees did not benefit from UN assistance.
      Not to mention the thousands of communities destroyed, the trauma those Jews have experienced which affects them and their descendents to this day, or those whose father or brother or son was hanged on the market place of Baghdad or Damascus to the applause of Muslim crowds.
      Justice. That’s what it is about. I am with you there.

      Reply to Comment