Bill to Punish anti-Israel Boycotters Passes First Knesset Hurdle

According to proposal, Israelis would face harsh punitive measures for such actions; controversial bill also calls for imposing sanctions on foreign nationals and groups and on states that give boycotts force of law.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset plenum on Monday approved in its first reading a "boycott law," which would levy harsh punitive fines on Israelis who call for academic or economic boycotts against Israeli institutions.

The controversial bill was put forth by 24 Knesset members, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik, coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ).

The Knesset plenum.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

The bill was supported by 32 members of Knesset, while 12 MKs opposed.

The draft law also calls for imposing sanctions against foreign nationals and organizations that call for anti-Israel boycotts, as well as against states that pass legislation giving such boycotts the force of law.

Elkin said prior to the vote that while in the United States it is considered illegal to boycott Israel - punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $1 million - the Israeli legal system cannot punish an Israeli who urges an American company to boycott his own country.

"This is an important and reasonable bill that will enable us to continue to ask the U.S. to take legal action against its citizens who boycott Israel," Elkin said.

Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik voted against the bill, and said that "it has nothing to do with the left or the right, for or against Arabs. MK Elkin, this is not what the poet intended. As a private civilian, do you want to put me in jail? You have taken the bill too far."

The Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Industry, Trade and Labor are fiercely opposed to the bill, on the grounds that it will not achieve its stated purpose of curbing boycotts and will only hamper efforts to cope with boycotts and the delegitimization of Israel on an international level.

Representatives of these ministries told the committee that the law would violate the right to freedom of expression and could damage Israel's relations with the European Union and the Foreign Ministry's freedom of action.

The preamble to the bill states that its aim is "to protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular from academic, economic and other boycotts targeting the state, its citizens and its corporations because of their connection to the state.

The draft law distinguishes among boycotts by Israeli residents or citizens; by foreign residents or nationals; and by foreign states, through legislation. It explicitly includes boycotts that affect the West Bank, such as boycotts of goods and services originating in the Jewish settlements there.

Under the provisions of the bill, the court could levy a fine of up to NIS 30,000 on Israeli citizens calling for or taking party in boycotts against Israel. Foreign citizens who violate the law could be prohibited from entering Israel for 10 years or more.

Foreign states that pass laws leading to a boycott of Israel or of Israeli products could be barred from carrying out transactions in Israeli bank accounts and from trading in Israeli stocks, land or real estate. In addition, the state could suspend the transfer of payments owed to the states. Israeli citizens who have suffered damage as a result of the boycott could sue for compensation, to be paid out of the frozen funds.

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