The parliamentary fists of the majority
The Boycott Law is a double-edged sword that threatens to harm Israel’s international standing, and to play into the hands of those criticizing the quality of the country’s democracy.
“I believe only in parliamentarianism of the old-fashioned kind,” Ze’ev Jabotinsky once wrote, “even if it sometimes seems inconvenient or helpless.”
This week the Knesset voted to add the Boycott Law to Israel’s law books. The use of boycotts, which has become so common lately, both here in Israel and abroad, is a very serious and disturbing phenomenon. I have often made known my opinion that in Israeli society, which is already collapsing under the weight of political and sectoral splits and divisions, boycotts of the kind that certain performing artists imposed on the residents of Ariel do grave injury to the delicate fabric of our lives. Israel needs to deal with the boycott problem, but it should do so using the right tools and in the relevant arenas: that is, in the international arena and by diplomatic means, using administrative tools, such as denial of funding to organizations that seek to assist our worst enemies.
However, woe betide the Jewish democratic state that turns freedom of expression into a civil offense, and woe betide Knesset members who hoped to produce good grapes, but instead produced rotten fruit, to paraphrase the words of the Prophet Isaiah. Not only does the legislation not provide democracy with an effective tool with which to cope with the boycott problem, it also threatens to catapult us into an era in which gagging people becomes accepted legal practice; an era in which the democratic-constitutional boundary line falls victim to acts of legislative infraction.
The Knesset’s legal adviser warned that the bill verged on the unconstitutional and would damage the heart of political freedom in Israel. Regrettably, my persistent attempts to put forward a compromise formula that would moderate the language of the law and prepare the bill to stand up to the constitutional test failed. The Boycott Law not only fails the test of constitutionality. It is a double-edged sword that threatens to harm Israel’s standing in the international arena, and to play into the hands of all those who criticize and mock the quality of the democracy in the Jewish state.
In practical terms, the outcome of the legislation will be different than what was intended: Those who have so far not boycotted Israel will do so now, and this time they will not differentiate a Green Line from a Red Line or a Purple Line. In addition, the law weakens our moral right to hold Judea and Samaria, and fans unnecessary ferment and protest domestically, as it brazenly defies the basic freedoms of the sovereign − namely, the citizens of the State of Israel.
I stand ashamed and mortified before my mentor, Jabotinsky, for not having succeeded in protecting the individual, whom he likened to a monarch, against the parliamentary fists of the majority. It might have been hoped that in an era in which Jabotinsky’s followers are scattered across the whole political spectrum, from the coalition to the opposition, things would be different. But in the absence of an ideological backbone, it appears that even the deep commitment to democracy and individual freedoms of those who call themselves his successors is conditional. It is the State of Israel that is compelled to pay the price of political interests that supersede national interests.
And as if the burden of the Boycott Law were not enough, one of its unfortunate results is to place the legislative and judicial branches on a collision course.
There are legitimate ways and tools to criticize judgments of the Supreme Court, and my position is well-known regarding the need to move ahead with a Basic Law on Legislation that would regulate the boundaries between the two branches. However, I cannot but condemn vehemently the attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court and its justices, which have been expressed both implicitly and explicitly over the past few days. These threats are another nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy.
Provocative legislation, as well as bills that “make a statement,” only undermine the status, supremacy and independence of the Knesset. As long as the legislators knowingly create breaches for others to break through, they cannot complain about the judiciary. “I believe in freedom of speech, and in almost every clash between individual freedom and enforced discipline, I am on the side of the individual,” Jabotinsky concluded. What I fear is that none of his disciples remain to stand by his side.
MK Reuven Rivlin is Speaker of the Knesset.
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