Of Boycotts and Democracy in Israel

A new law forbids Israeli citizens from boycotting West Bank settlements

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Earlier today the Israeli Knesset passed the Boycott Prohibition Law, making it illegal for any individual or organization to boycott any part of Israel, including West Bank settlements. Proponents of the law believe facilitating trade into the West Bank is essential to protecting Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. "The state of Israel has for years been dealing with boycotts from Arab nations, but now we are talking about a home-grown boycott," said Knesset member Ze'ev Elkin, according to The Telegraph. According to the British daily,

Under the terms of the bill it will be a civil offence to back an anti-Israel boycott, be it consumer, academic or cultural; and initiators of a boycott will be subject to litigation. The law also prevents the government doing business with any company that initiates or complies with boycotts.

Opponents are, not surprisingly, calling these terms undemocratic.

It's an infringement on freedom of speech The left-wing paper, Haaretz, argues that no matter the intentions of the bill, good or bad, the government can't deny Israeli's their rights -- no matter what they believe. Just like in America, Israeli's have the right to organize.

Civil society has an unalienable right to organize peacefully and to use its buying power or freedom of association to further political objectives, whether it be grassroots protest against the high price of cottage cheese, haredi activism against Shabbat desecration, rabbis’ calls to “boycott” potential Arab house-buyers in Jewish neighborhoods or left-wing opposition to the government’s settlement policy in Judea and Samaria.

Even if the bill is in Israel's best interests, it's hard to get over the freedom of speech implications. "The legislators are thereby trying to silence one of the most legitimate forms of democratic protest, and to restrict the freedom of expression and association of those who oppose the occupation and the settlers' violence and want to protest against the government's flawed order of priorities," explains a more sympathetic editorial in The Jerusalem Post.

The legislation is an embarrassment Many, including Barack Obama, point to Israel as a shining democracy in the middle of an autocratic hill. Yet, the new legislation makes Israel seem not-so-democratic. "We are dealing with legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here," is how Ilan Gilon, a Knesset member for the left-wing opposition Meretz party feels about the bill.

It certainly won't help settlement negotiations Those hoping settlement negotiations will be a key issue for impending peace talks see the bill as early indicators of Israel's denial to negotiate on the issue. "The bill will turn settlements into sacred places and whoever comes near them will be fined. What kind of negotiations and solutions can we talk about then?" questions Palestinian negotiator Abd Rabbo, while speaking to Ynet.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.