The Boycott Law was the product of a democratic process in a democratic state, and it doesnt mar Israels image in the least, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset on Wednesday in his first public statements about the controversial law that passed Monday.
What mars its image are the reckless, irresponsible attacks against the legitimate attempt by a democracy on the defensive to draw a line between what is acceptable and what isnt acceptable, he said.
He added that although he was absent from the vote, he nevertheless supported the legislation.
I dont want anyone to be confused. I approved the law, he said. If I hadnt backed it, it wouldnt have passed. I am against boycotts aimed at the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, 32 law professors at university faculties and colleges all over the country have signed a petition aimed at Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, in which they categorically state that the Boycott Law is unconstitutional and does grievous harm to the freedom of political expression and freedom of protest.
Among the signatories are Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren, dean of the law faculty at the University of Haifa; and Prof. Moshe Cohen-Eliya, dean of the law school at the Ramat Gan Academic Center.
Also signed on are several former law school deans: Hanoch Dagan, Ariel Porat and Menachem Mautner (former deans of the Tel Aviv University Law School); Uriel Procaccia (former dean of the Hebrew University Law School) and Eli Salzberger (former dean at the University of Haifa).
Signatures will be sought until the end of the week, according to Prof. Alon Harel of the Hebrew University and Prof. Frances Raday of the College of Management, who initiated the petition. Everyone asked to sign was given a copy of the law.
Harel said that although many PhD candidates in law had asked to be included in the petition, it was decided not to seek their signatures lest their signing be held against them when they are considered for university positions.
The law, Harel said, is a classic expression of what political theory calls the tyranny of the majority, when political entities exploit the fact that they represent the majority to silence and at times even persecute the minority.
From a legal perspective, were talking about restrictions on political expression, when the restrictions are not neutral with regard to worldview, but are aimed at promoting one viewpoint and subjugating another, a clear expression of the tyranny of the majority, Harel said.
Leading legal minds must try to scuttle unacceptable legislative initiatives like the Boycott Law, he said.
Under the current circumstances, when the political system is acting against the legal system and the legal principles that developed during the 1990s, the task of a lawyer in government service is to block implementation of initiatives of this type, Harel said.
Raday said that the Boycott Law is particularly dangerous because it restricts freedom of expression regarding one of the deepest conflicts in Israeli politics the future of the territories and the settlements.
Personally I dont support boycotts of any sort, she said. But I think that the part of the Jewish people that is concerned about the policy toward the territories should be permitted to express its opinion, even if its by boycotting products.
In his Knesset address, Netanyahu excoriated the Kadima party, five of whose members, including faction chairman MK Dalia Itzik, had been among the sponsors of the law in its original form, which was much more severe than the version eventually passed.
The five Kadima MKs had dropped their sponsorship after it was decided not to make the laws violation a criminal offense but to impose civil penalties instead.
Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who spoke after Netanyahu, argued that the MKs had withdrawn their support because they realized how problematic the bill was.
The plenum debate was particularly stormy, with MKs constantly heckling the speakers, and three of them were removed from the chamber. One of them, Hanin Zuabi (Balad), struggled with the security personnel who removed her.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman yesterday started to pressure Netanyahu to impose coalition discipline on another controversial vote expected next week. The vote is on whether to establish parliamentary investigation committees to probe human rights groups.
If the coalition doesnt impose discipline for the establishing of these committees, we will see this as a slap at Yisrael Beiteinu, Lieberman said.
Netanyahu had declared several months ago that he would allow coalition MKs to vote their consciences, after it became clear that several ministers and MKs opposed setting up such committees. If there is no coalition discipline, chances that the measure will pass are small.
Lieberman threatened that his party would violate coalition discipline in the future with regard to bills it disapproved of, particularly after Defense Minister Ehud Baraks entire Independence faction missed the vote on the Boycott Law, despite the coalition discipline that had been imposed.
People who make their own rules have to understand that there are broad ramifications to this, Lieberman said.
In fact, both the coalition and opposition started yesterday to mete out punishments to those MKs who did not show up Monday for the Boycott Law vote. Sanctions included a halt of a NIS 620 million budget transfer to Baraks Defense Ministry and Kadimas suspension of MK Otniel Schneller from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for six months.
The Defense Ministry budget allocation was blocked when coalition chairman and Boycott Law sponsor Zeev Elkin, together with Likud MK Zion Pinyan, demanded that the Knesset Finance Committee conduct a revote on the allocation, which had already been approved.
Barak, apparently, will have to flatter and beg Elkin to get the money, a Knesset source said.
Schneller, for whom this was the fourth violation of faction discipline, was also suspended from the State Control Committee. Kadima MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich, who also missed the vote, was suspended from the Absorption Committee for three months and forbidden to raise motions to the agenda or submit bills for a month.
The punishment expresses a preference for politics and the Kadima leaderships unbridled battle for power over ideological depth and over the Zionist interests of the Jewish state, Schneller said.
Also yesterday, MKs from across the spectrum criticized a bill that would allow the Knesset to veto the appointment of Supreme Court justices who would be chosen only after they submit to a public hearing before the Law and Constitution Committee.
The Prime Ministers Office issued a statement yesterday saying that Netanyahu opposes the measure.