Today, the Knesset was slated to approve the final reading of the Boycott Prohibition Law, which imposes severe punishments on anyone who calls, directly or indirectly, for boycotting Israel. Inter alia, the law says any person or organization that calls for boycotting Israel, including by calling for a boycott of the settlements, would be deemed guilty of a civil offense. Organizations that call for boycotts would not be entitled to receive tax-deductible donations or obtain funding from the state.
This contemptible law blatantly violates Israel's Basic Laws. It is couched in vague language: It defines "a boycott of the State of Israel" very broadly, while the definition of causing a boycott is fluid. Under the law, it would suffice for a call to boycott Israel to have "a reasonable possibility" of leading to an actual boycott for the lawbreaker (under the Torts Ordinance, New Version ) to be defined as having committed a civil offense. The lawbreaker would then be deprived of significant economic benefits and would also have to pay high compensation to those purportedly harmed by the boycott.
This vagueness is intentional, designed to conceal the goal of spreading a wide protective net over the settlements, whose products, activities and in fact very existence - which is controversial to begin with - are the main reason for the boycott initiatives, both domestic and foreign. 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.
The law's sponsors are also creating a mendacious equivalence between the State of Israel and Israeli society as a whole, on one hand, and the settlements on the other. They are thereby granting the settlers sweeping legitimization.
This is a politically opportunistic and anti-democratic act, the latest in a series of outrageously discriminatory and exclusionary laws enacted over the past year, and it accelerates the process of transforming Israel's legal code into a disturbingly dictatorial document. It casts the threatening shadow of criminal offense over every boycott, petition or even newspaper op-ed. Very soon, all political debate will be silenced.
Knesset members who vote for this law must understand that they are supporting the gagging of protest as part of an ongoing effort to liquidate democracy. Such moves may be painted as protecting Israel, but in reality, they exacerbate its international isolation.
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