I spent much of last evening watching the debate in the Knesset over the proposed ‘Anti-Boycott’ law. It was one of those odd debates in which impassioned speakers assumed the podium to support or lambast the proposed legislation to a largely empty room.
Not only were few legislators in the actual chamber, a substantial number of the Knesset’s 120 MKs did not vote at all (including MKs from Shas who were at a wedding, MKs from the ‘Independence’ party, and even some MKs from Likud–including PM Netanyahu).
By late evening, the Knesset passed the legislation on a vote of 48-38, and it became law this morning (the fact that the opponents could only muster 38 votes shows the power of the Netanyahu coalition).
What the law says:
1. The law makes it a civil offense in Israel to support a consumer, academic, or cultural boycott against Israel [‘Israel’ is defined as any land under the control of Israel–including the West Bank].
2. Under the terms of the bill, any citizen can bring suit against any person or organization who supports such a boycott. If a wrong is found to have been committed, the judicial body adjudicating the case will determine the financial penalty based on “the circumstances of the wrong, its severity and its scope.”
3. NGOs that espouse boycotts against Israel as well as those that are funded by individuals and entities that espouse boycotts against Israel are also subject to lawsuit–and if found guilty will (in addition to the fine levied against them) lose their classification as charitable institutions for income tax purposes and will lose their ability to receive any Israel government money.
4. The law prevents the Israeli government from doing any business with any company that initiates or complies with boycotts.
Much of my time last night was spent listening to those who opposed the law. Their underlying themes were that the law subverts democracy, denies freedom of expression, denies a form of non-violent resistance, and further isolates Israel internationally. Let me give you two examples of MKs who exemplified these ideas (quotations are my paraphrases):
Yoav Hadin of the extreme left Hadash party spent much of his time comparing those in Israel who want to boycott Israel with the civil rights demonstrators in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. According to Hadin, there is no difference between your average BDSer and Rosa Parks–each was/is merely fighting for freedom.
Ahmed Tibi, with his famed shouting theatrics, focused on the law from a domestic and international perspective: “First we tell people they can’t sail to Israel [the flotilla], then we tell people they can’t fly to Israel [the flytilla], now we tell people they cannot engage in non-violent resistance. . .” (At this point Tibi was interrupted by an MK from Israel Betainu who loudly said that recently he went out to watch a demonstration against the separation fence and was ‘nonviolently’ pelted with rocks.)
Tibi continued shouting that Israel is losing all international standing because (are you ready for this?) Roger Waters of Pink Floyd had written a letter against the law–and because BDS is against the law!
Of course, both Hadin and Tibi oppose the existence of the state of Israel. And this is precisely the point about those who encourage boycotts against the country–they too would like to see ‘Israel’ as a Jewish country erased from the map. Unlike the civil rights demonstrators in the U.S. who sought to make their country a better, more inclusive place, the boycotters seek to exclude a Jewish Israel into nonexistence. Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute; those who by their words and actions seek to destroy Israel should not have an Israeli government subsidized platform to operate from.
By this afternoon or tomorrow, the new law will be challenged in the Israel Supreme Court, successfully I suspect, because of the vagueness of many of the terms in the legislation–all of which means that the law will eventually be rewritten and resubmitted to the Knesset.
But at least, in your humble servant’s opinion, the law is a good start.