Israelis who call for a boycott of Israel, or initiate or encourage such a boycott, could face stiff fines under a bill that passed its preliminary Knesset reading yesterday.

The bill would impose a NIS 30,000 fine on Israelis who initiate, encourage or advance a boycott of individuals, factories, companies or organizations in Israel and the West Bank. Such acts would be deemed a criminal offense.

American law forbids Americans from participating in boycotts of U.S. allies, including Israel.

"It appears that given what's going on in Israel, we need a similar law for Israelis," said the bill's sponsors, coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud ), MK Arieh Eldad (National Union ) and MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima ).

Under the proposed law, any group could sue for damages of up to NIS 30,000 from anyone who launched a boycott against them, or incited a boycott, without having to prove damage was caused. An additional sum could be demanded once damages were proven.

The bill comes in the wake of calls for a wide range of boycotts on Israel - financial, academic and others.

"We must not accept boycotts against Israel, whether academic or economic. The state must protect itself from the growing delegitimization processes, and provide compensation for those harmed by it," Elkin said Tuesday.