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Knesset outlaws political boycott by 48 votes to 37

The Knesset just passed into law the anti-boycott initiative bill of MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), by a majority of 47 to 38. Many Knesset members, including Shas, top Likud members and all of Atzmaut (Ehud Barak’s faction) were absent. Netanyahu was also absent from the vote. We hope to have the names of the MKs for you and for posterity soon.

As Roi Maor wrote here earlier,

….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.

The legal advisor of the Knesset already voiced grave warnings regarding the constitutionality of law, and Adalah and Association for Civil Rights Israel  already announced they will petition the Supreme Court to strike it down. Their petitions are expected to be filed in the coming days. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, informed the government he is ready to defend the law at the Supreme Court.

The vote was preceded by a heated debate, with opposition members accusing the coalition of an attack on Israeli democracy. “I know of nothing that causes more de-legitimization for Israel abroad than these acts of legislation,” said MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz. MK Nino Abessadze (Kadima) accused the government of taking Israel back to the Stalinist Bolshevism of the 1930’s. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) defended the law on behalf of the government, claiming that boycott in itself is an undemocratic act:

“It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood. A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong.”

Yet it is important to note that Israel didn’t ban all boycotts tonight – just those directed against the country’s 44 years of occupation.

I would add two observations: One, this law will obviously do more to “de-legitimize” Israel as a “normal” western-style democracy than any action by the BDS movement could dream to. Two: This is the first of an entire barrage of anti-democratic bills being pushed for legislation that actually went through. Tonight may well be the night when the ruling coalition – up to and including its wackiest members – will finally realize it is in power, it is in control and the parliamentary Left can do very little to stop it. Unless the High Court of Justice strikes down the law – and the Court has been very cautious in recent years, knowing full well it is also a target for crippling and/or decommission – we should brace ourselves for more similar laws, coming fast and furious over the next few months.

Read more on the boycott law:

Why the Left shouldn’t petition the High Court against the law (Yossi Gurvitz)

Knesset study finds boycott law unparalleled in any democracy (Joseph Dana)

What is the anti-boycott law? Who does it affect? (Roi Maor)

Roger Waters speaks against boycott bill, endorses BDS (Noam Sheizaf)

Boycott: No longer taboo in progressive pro-Israel circles (Mairav Zonszein)


Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report

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    1. Danny

      The only democracy in the Middle East. Mazel tov, Israel!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Svej

      Well said, Danny, well said..

      Reply to Comment
    3. RichardNYC

      Yes, a democratically elected legislature passed a law. Private citizens have the right to petition against it. I don’t see the problem.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Daniel ben Dov

      Actually, Richard, I’m not sure if private citizens do have the right to petition against it. The act of doing so may itself now be in contravention of the law.

      Reply to Comment
    5. gedaliah

      You mean a government funded organization cannot boycott parts of its own country…Seriously!!! that is Rasc…..wait….that actually makes a lot of sense.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Frank

      Democracies come up with bad laws all the time. Curbing this is the responsibility of the executive and judiciary. I don’t know if Israel has a veto (not that there’s the political spine to veto this sort of demagoguery, anyway), but I have every hope the Supreme Court will strike this down just as they’ve struck down a host of stupid Knesset pieces of legislation in the past.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Empress Trudy

      I can taste the leftist rage from here. How dare we allow those ‘Zionists’ a vote? Better a Syrian style totalitarian regime where ‘voting’ doesn’t exist and dissent is fired from the rooftops! Viva La Revolucion!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Lise Quinn

      Israel is NOT a democracy – it is a theocracy – like Iran.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sylvia

      I don’t think it’ll make it through the Supreme Court.
      Frankly, I don’t see who BDS is hurting except the Palestinians. No salaries from the settlers and the other boycotted which means in the long term reduced social security checks to the Palestinian workers in the West Bank, which means a needy and weak PA who will come to the negotiating table tail between legs.
      I am even more enthused by the cultural BDS: it succeeded in eliminating the importation of mediocrity, and as a result we are getting only the “creme de la creme”, those who have nothing to prove and do not need to kiss anyone’s seat, while the nobodies are going elsewhere.
      As to the settlers, they do not lose a penny. All they do is raise the price of their product for Israeli consumers.

      Reply to Comment
    10. RichardNYC

      @Daniel Ben Dov
      “and Adalah and Association for Civil Rights Israel already announced they will petition the Supreme Court to strike it down”

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ariely

      It is my way- or no way!

      Israeli left parties are:
      – losing in elections repeatedly?
      – Early decreasing number of supporters?
      -reality proves repeatedly that their ideas and policy are wrong?

      What is their democratic solution?
      Loosing in Israeli public?
      Impose their ideas and will on the Israelis by foreign intervention!
      Bashing and incitement abroad against Israel!
      And they have the guts to call their action legatine democratic actions!
      It is their way- or destroys the country by foreign intervention!

      Reply to Comment
    12. Empress Trudy

      Governments are supposed to protect all their citizens and not allow foddity nationals and other governments punish some of their citizens because of their religion and their address. Leftists or I should say anarchists are happy to anschluss Israel and punish particular groups as they see fit.

      Reply to Comment
    13. That the passing Knesset majority < an absolute Knesset majority of 61 means that this law cannot be seen as overriding the Basic Laws. I think the Supreme Court will annul the law as repugnant to the Basic Law on freedom of expression. But there is certainly a slow motion constitutional crisis in your country; strangely, all sides, including the dominant right fortress mentality, seem unwilling to push the crisis to a head. Perhaps because no one can envision a solution that would abide. I know not.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mitchell Cohen

      Gedaliah: You mean a government funded organization cannot boycott parts of its own country…Seriously!!! that is Rasc…..wait….that actually makes a lot of sense.[end of quote]

      I thought it was just me….LOL

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sarah

      KM Ze’ev Elkin is a real danger to the Israeli parliament and democracy: any Knesset member and even Government ministers needs Mr. Elkin’s help in assuring that at the right moment their bills are going to have the necessary majority in the Knesset to pass – simply because Mr. Elkin’s job is to make sure that the coalition is going to have a majority in every voting (it supports) in the Knesset. Without his work no Law can pass. That’s some mighty powerful position at the Knesset, which Elkin (mind you, the last member on the Likud’s list to enter the Knesset) received because he is a diligent member of the Knesset who was willing to work hard and do the work other members are probably to busy (with doing good for their country) or lazy to do.
      The problem is that Mr. Elkin, knowing that there’s almost no member who can stop him (aside from PM Netanyahu), abuses his position to aggressively pass bills without proper negotiation. I saw this law being formed, discussed and finally approved. It was a one-man-show of Mr. Elkin, with very minor changes made along the way simply because Mr. Elkin refused to listen to any of the ideas offered by others. I have no doubt that many of the KM who voted for the law last night did so because they were “afraid” of what might happen to their bills if they don’t. I’ve seen KM argue passionately against this bill but at the end vote for it, without any apparent reason, other than their dependency in Mr. Elkin.
      The man is dumb, megalomaniac and dangerous.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Does anyone think Yuval Steinitz will propose a bill to stop the agressive nature of some members of the public calling to boycott El Al because they fly on shabbat?!

      Reply to Comment
    17. Anchorite

      So now they’re saying people cannot express political opinions about not supporting the genocide in the occupied territories? That expressing an opinion against genocide is in fact the real crime?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Bob

      @Lise Quinn

      Actually, Israel is the most democratic country on Earth. There are no actual democracies (direct rule by vote of the people, like California’s referendum, only for everything). What we call “democracies” are republics with democratically elected representatives. Most of them divide the country up into districts and then the voters of each district vote for their choice of reps. That means that only the tie-breaking vote counts. If you are a Republican in a Democrat district or vice-versa, you may as well not bother voting. If the greens get 10% in each district, they get no reps at all.

      Israel votes by proportional representation. There are no districts. If your party gets 10% of the vote, you get 10% of the seats. Everyone’s vote counts. The parties care about getting every last one of their voters to the polls, not just the ones in swing districts.

      There are Arabs in the K’nesset, both in Arab parties and in parties that are not predominantly Arab. It’s been that way since the very first K’nesset. It’s also why Israel always has coalition governments. It’s easy to start a third party here and you aren’t wasting your vote by voting for a small party. So the vote is split up many ways.

      Israel also has a functioning court system including a Supreme Court that follows Israel’s “Basic Laws” (their equivalent of a Constitution).

      Reply to Comment
    19. max

      Bob, there’s no legal definition of what constitutes a democracy, but all agree that it goes well beyond the mere act of voting, and must include elements such as free press. There’s also no definition of which voting system is more democratic, proportional or regional. What one can observe is that winner-takes-all seems to result in bodies were it’s easier to take decisions and small interest groups have less chance of acquiring influence well beyond their electoral size. At the same time – as you write – their influence may completely vanish.
      An interesting extension to election is that of popular votes.
      BTW, Switzerland may be as close to what you refer to as ‘ideal’, but also not without its problems.
      The important element, however, is that the modern term of democracy emphasizes as much the importance of supporting minorities as that of deciding by voting.
      And once voted, what does democracy say about the obligation of the winner to its pre-election pledges?
      I don’t think that Israel is the most democratic or moral country in the world.
      I do think that it is a democracy, and under attack by mostly non-democratic countries and people. I also think that it starts having a dangerous influence by people that have a different understanding of what democracy means, some of them for religious reasons.
      The claim that Israel is a theocracy reflects either ignorance or bigotry, most probably both.
      Orthodoxy is a minority in Israel, and so is its representation in the government. One will be hard pressed to find a more anti state-religious person than its vilified foreign minister.

      Reply to Comment