Of Boycotts and Boycotters

Knesset plenum

Knesset plenum

I have been trying to ignore all the sound and fury about the new anti-boycott legislation that was just passed in the Knesset because, truth be told, I’m having a hard time deciphering the ins and outs and legal minutiae of the law. But I’ve decided that I should jump into the fray after all.

There are so many articles for and against the boycott bill (which should really be called the “anti-boycott bill”) that it is extremely confusing to make any sense at all of the goings on.

First, the basics: The anti-boycott law :

states that any boycott against Israel or any group located within its territory, including the West Bank, will be labeled a civil offense and its initiators will be subject to litigation.

From what I’ve been able to gather, those simple words “including the West Bank” have ignited incredibly furious reactions both from the Left and from the rest of the world who really ought to have no opinion on the matter since the law applies to Israelis only.

Meanwhile, the European Union announced it was concerned about the Boycott Law. A statement issued by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that the EU fears the effect the law will have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations seeking to express political opinions in a non-violent manner.

Edited to add: (hat tip to Ido – those who know him know who this is) It is the idea that the “boycottees” can sue for compensation for economic damage that is so upsetting the boycotters:

The bill, which passed by a majority of 47 to 38, stipulates that anyone calling for an economic, cultural or academic boycott against the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will be unable to participate in government tenders. In addition, any person who considers himself a victim of a boycott could sue the boycotter for compensation

The boycotters want the liberty of being able to boycott whomever they want and also the liberty of protesting “fascism”, “McCarthyism” and all the other extremist epithets when the affected people fight back.

America’s reaction was delicately calibrated thus:

When asked to comment on the anti-boycott law, the U.S. State Department said the law was an “Israeli internal matter” but also hinted its criticism by pointing out the right to peaceful protest in democratic countries.

I’m sure they are correct about the right to peaceful protest in democracies, but do those peaceful protests also include boycotts?

Tzippi Livni led the opposition’s attack on Netanyahu and the new law. However it appears she was for it before she was against it. Livni is simply a political opportunist and votes against whatever Netanyahu votes for.

Netanyahu slammed the Kadima party: “You initiated the bill. Key members of Kadima endorsed the original proposal. Why did MKs who endorsed the original bill decide to oppose it in its final version? Because there was pressure and you folded under pressure.”

American Jews meanwhile have voiced extremely strong criticism from left to right.  However this JTA article also brings some opposing opinions and bring some balance to the debate.

Morton Klein, the ZOA’s president, said he was still examining the law, but that in principle the ZOA opposed anti-boycott laws.

“Nobody was more appalled by the boycott of Ariel theater than me, but to make it illegal? I don’t think so,” Klein told JTA, referring to calls by some Israeli artists to boycott a performing arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Supporters of the law in Israel say it is a necessary counter measure to boycott efforts.

“It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said during the debate on the bill, according to Ynet. “A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression.”

The Anti-Defamation League, however, suggested in a public statement that the legislation is not the appropriate way to combat boycotts.

“To legally stifle calls to action — however abhorrent and detrimental they might be — is a disservice to Israeli society,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director. “We hope Israel’s Supreme Court will quickly take up a review of this law and resolve the concerns it raises. “

I get the feeling that some of the opposition to the law from American Jews is that it gives a bad impression of Israel, and not from any real opposition to the law per se.

In an interview, Foxman expressed concern that in any case, a degree of damage was done to Israel by the law, even if the courts eventually quash it.

“The people who wanted it will say, `We introduced it, we argued for it, we got it passed,’ and the people who think it’s contrary to democracy will have their victory in the court,” he said. “People are playing politics with an issue that does Israel damage.”

Centrist American Jewish groups in the past year have pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government twice to contain what they perceived as damaging hearings in the Knesset, one targeting human rights groups and the other J Street.

Joining the ADL in issuing statements condemning the law were an array of dovish Jewish groups that included the New Israel Fund, J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

“When you start to persecute unpopular opinions, there really is no end point,” said Naomi Paiss, a spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund.

As for the various opinions for and against the new law, I will give you a list of links and you can make your minds up for yourself.

AGAINST:

The law has fragile legal foundations

Killing chances of peace

FOR:

Just like in America which also has anti-boycott legislation

New law protects democracy

Here are some other articles which make excellent reading, giving all sides of the debate on this thorny issue:

CiFWatch discusses the Guardian’s take on the anti-boycott bill and also brings a very good analysis.

The Muqata has a comprehensive report with many links, well worth the read.

I am of the opinion that if Israel’s extreme Left hadn’t overstepped the mark and tried to boycott Ariel’s local theatre, followed by the new Palestinian town of Rawabi boycotting products from settlements, by this law might never have had to be written and passed.  It’s time the Left realized that their actions too have outcomes and can lead to a backlash.

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3 Responses to Of Boycotts and Boycotters

  1. reality says:

    since when is it the rest of the worlds business what Israel legislates or not? Did we go ballistic about Hollands banning of ritual slaughter? Or America states that still have the death penalty? Its not our business & neither is the boycott law theirs . Interesting that the left only feel that they have the right to boycott & no one else has. They can’t get it into their heads that the majority of Israelis chose the center/right & are fed up with the left. They wanted packaging printed with the area where the product is produced,in order not to buy from the Yehuda or Shomron but that works both ways -people may only buy those products! when they realised this they had to resort to other means. Meanwhile the boycott law was passed & suddenly the left are up in arms.

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