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You can boycott anything in Israel — except the occupation

The ‘boycott law’ won’t put an end to the BDS movement — its real importance lies in the criminalization of all opposition to the occupation.

A few months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab citizens of Israel. Such remarks — blunt racism directed at 20 percent of Israelis, regardless of their actions, opinions or political affiliations — are now well-embedded within the Israeli mainstream. Liberman himself is a legitimate coalition partner as far as either Labor or Likud are concerned. Meanwhile, the call to boycott those who profit from the occupation is now officially considered a civil offense. This is the bottom line of the High Court of Justice’s verdict, which approved the Knesset’s anti-boycott law (with the exception of a single article) on Wednesday afternoon.

The verdict is a 200-page long formidable act of legal acrobatics and eye-rolling. A boycott, the court declares, is a form of discrimination. One of the justices even goes so far as to use the Orwellian term “political act of terror.” Yet boycotting is a very common political act, both in Israel and elsewhere. There are those who boycott shops that sell animal fur, others who boycott restaurants that serve non-Kosher food, people who boycott Turkey due to its politics, and much more. All of the these take place unperturbed in broad daylight, and are often promoted by political parties, civil society organizations and public figures. And this is before we even begin to speak of racially-motivated boycotts that target the Palestinian population — these go unhindered as well. But a boycott of settlements products? Forbidden. The bottom line is that today in Israel, one can boycott anything and anyone, except the occupation.

Justice Meltzer, who wrote most of the verdict, argues that the boycott — and especially the academic boycott — “silences intellectual discourse.” In other words, it is the boycott that hurts democracy and freedom of speech. In the abstract world of the High Court, the occupation is an intellectual issue to be debated rationally in the public sphere. In reality, however, the occupation is a regime that deprives millions of their political rights, thus denying them the possibility of participating in the public decision-making process. If Palestinians had the right to vote and participate in the political sphere that determines their destiny, there would be no need for boycotts.

Israelis have no right to “democratically” decide to deny the rights of millions. Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to oppose such a decision, regardless of the majority that stands behind it. Boycotts are a nonviolent tool in this political battle, and therefore is among the most legitimate forms of opposition. It is no coincidence that the history of civil rights movements across the world includes countless examples of successful boycotts. The High Court and the Knesset have outlawed one of the most acceptable forms of political action, both in Israel and around the world, in order to sustain the occupation. It’s as simple as that.

BDS graffiti on Israeli separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

BDS graffiti on Israeli separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

This verdict should put an end, once and for all, to the myth of Israel’s “liberal” High Court. Just in recent years, the court has approved the Nakba Law (allowing the state to withdraw funds from institutions that teach about the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948); the “admission panels” law (allowing small communities to reject applicants based on race or ethnicity); The “citizenship law” (forbidding Arab citizens who marry non-citizen Palestinians to settle in Israel with their spouse); and now the boycott law. There were also other troubling rulings, which received little public attention, such as the one allowing Israel to operate quarries in the West Bank, profiting from the little resources Palestinians actually own, in direct violation of international law regarding occupied territories.

A broader historical look shows that the High Court never really tried to prevent any of the major measures Israel exercised in the territories it occupied in 1967. Not the land confiscations, not the settlements, not the torture, not the targeted assassinations and not the building of the separation wall on Palestinian land. However, the court did set some restrictions. In other words, it provided the legal framework for how to confiscate land and then settle it, when to torture and who to assassinate. The court was never a tool in the battle against the occupation, but rather an inherent part of its structure. Its role was to introduce the necessary adjustments between the occupation and the Israeli legal system.

Read more: High Court upholds controversial ‘boycott law’

Now the High Court is taking part in the poisonous turn Israel has taken — the gradual adaptation of a nationalistic, Jewish-ethnic discourse, which promotes segregation and places restrictions on ideas and thoughts. This includes a restriction on discussing the Nakba; on promoting the liberal idea of a state for all its citizens; and on using boycotts as a political tool. Unpopular ideas become illegitimate, and are later outlawed. And it all happens with the support of the High Court.

The occupation has poisoned every Israeli institution, one after the other. Universities are offering courses in propaganda (“hasbara”) while distancing themselves from “anti-Israeli” content, the media is applying more and more self-censorship, and the High Court is going places no Western democracy has been. Israel is changing its own internal code of conduct, all for the sake of maintaining its control over the Palestinians.

The boycott movement wasn’t born in Israel, and verdict will not do much to affect it. If anything, the movement is only likely to gain more ground. But a major transformation is taking place within Israeli society. Judging from the elections results — which the right is interpreting as a clear mandate to execute more of its ideas — this is only the beginning.

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    1. In the absence of any significant enforced counter-force to the occupation and settlerism by the US or European governments, every Israeli sound of mind should support BDS, if they want to save their homeland (and maintain a Jewish demographic majority).

      Continued expropriation of Palestinian land in favour of further colonization will mid to long term inevitably lead to a de facto one state but one based on extreme Apartheid (in which WB Palestinians will essentially be devoid of political rights). Ehud Olmert already warned about that years ago: he was entirely right for once. The Palestinians will then engage in a Civil Rights struggle which even the most hypocritical of all of Israel’s supporters (the US) will have no choice but to underwrite. And that will be the end of the Israeli state, at least as most Jewish Israelis want it.

      The 972mag resident loons like ‘whiplash’, ‘Gustav’ et al probably believe in miracles, like the one where Palestinians will magically disappear or somehow end up in Jordan. In reality, we all know neither is going to happen.

      This anti-BDS verdict is essentially another internal nail in Israel’s future coffin. Less opposition to occupation/settlerism will only accelerate Israel’s trajectory to an ‘accidental’ one state, which will jeopardize the concept of Jewish majority rule.

      So, Israelis: oppose occupation/settlerism and recognize BDS for what it is.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “political act of terror”

        Stated by an Israeli High Court Justice. This remarkable statement epitomizes the toxic right wing mix of entitlement, victimhood, and impunity, and that a High Court Justice, and not some wild-eyed settler in Hebron, wrote this in a formal opinion handed down, shows how far in an authoritarian even totalitarian direction the Israeli state has moved. Scheizaf is of course correct to call it Orwellian. This articulate essay by Noam Scheizaf marks an important milestone on a long slippery slide to the hard right and descent into astounding hypocrisy that the state and too many of its people have taken. Gert is right: this only accelerates a grim downward trajectory.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          The High Court (of “Justice”) is on a roll here:

          Only a day after the High Court of Justice upheld most of the sections of the “Anti-Boycott Law,” the justices of the Supreme Court approved the use of another controversial law: The application of the Absentee Property Law to assets in East Jerusalem. The practical effect of the ruling is that it allows the state to take control of property in East Jerusalem whose owners live in the West Bank or Gaza.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Justi

      Thank you Noam, always intelligent and sensible commentary! Have you seen the latest?


      You are right in saying that the High Court has been providing the legal framework for oppression. This last ruling is another example.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Interesting it is that the usual hard right extremists usually the first ones in have totally shied away from commenting here. Noam Scheizaf’s articulate essay on the fact that you can boycott anything in Israel — except the occupation — is too much truth for them. The sheer anti-democratic hypocrisy exposed is too much. They know when to fold ’em.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ricky Rocket

        Not content with 60% of the postings and self-responses, you Brian even argue with people regardless if they post or not. What an angry, inappropriate asshole you are

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You should consider not drinking before you post.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ricky Rocket

            Great response from someone arguing with imaginary “rightists”
            What else you got, you pathetic, neurotic jerk?

            Reply to Comment
    4. Leo

      A simple look at international law should suffice to indicate what the recent High court decisions (“boycott law”, absentee law…) are worth. They will only ensure more suffering.

      I believe that the international powers should take over now — for our own sanity. (Ok, not litterally, folks, but they should definitely enforce international law here.)

      Unfortunately, many pro-Palestinians do not care about international law. They fail to see that they have a huge international support for an internationally recognized state alongside the state of Israel. I do not blame them. They suffered, are still suffering and will suffer. But at least their leaders or their intellectuals living in the West should see this.

      Reply to Comment