Israel's High Court to State: Explain Why Boycott Law Should Remain in Effect

Law issued in 2011 says a person or organization calling for the boycott of Israel, including the settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they suffered any damage.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to explain why the controversial Boycott Law should not be canceled, and decided to continue deliberations on petitions from civil rights groups claiming it infringes on rights of freedom of expression, dignity and equality.

The state has four months to submit its explanation.

The law, passed in July 2011, says a person or organization calling for the boycott of Israel, including the settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they suffered any damage. The court will then decide how much compensation is to be paid.

The second part of the law says a person or company that declares a boycott of Israel or the settlements will not be able to bid in government tenders.

The High Court on Tuesday heard the petitions, which demanded an order nisi be issued against the law.

“The law imposes a ‘price tag’ on legitimate political statements and causes damage to public debate, especially on the most burning and controversial issues,” the petitioners told Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and Justices Esther Hayut and Salim Joubran.

The petitioners maintained that harsh punishments for violating the law have a “censorship effect” on people who wish to express a political opinion by calling for a boycott. In this manner the law is damaging even before it is invoked against a particular individual or organization, they said.

The petition was submitted by attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Sawsan Zaher from the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Dan Yakir from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of the Public Committee Against Torture, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, the Center for the Defense of the Individual and Yesh Din.

The appeal was also presented on behalf of three Israeli organizations that support a general economic boycott against Israel in protest at the occupation: The Coalition of Women for Peace, The Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education in Israel, and The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center.

The bill faced broad criticism before it was approved by the Knesset in 2011, both nationally and internationally, and was slammed by the U.S. and European Union.

Justice Joubran criticized Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for defending the law, despite his own objections to it.

“Most of the legal advisers of the Knesset and ministries spoke out strongly against the law, including yourself,” Joubran told Weinstein. “Shouldn’t that have turned on a red warning light?”

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon told the court the MKs do not adhere to the Knesset and government’s legal advisers’ opinions.

“We made all the efforts to put the law within a constitutional framework, but the Knesset and ministries’ legal advisers’ opinions do not bind the MKs,” Yinon said.

He said the Knesset has the final say and the Court for Constitutional Affairs can determine whether the law is constitutional or not.

Justice Grunis suggested the petition was “unripe” and the law should be contested with concrete cases, not in a general manner.

Adalah attorney Zaher said this was a fundamental petition and could not be deemed unripe, as the law’s very existence constitutes a restriction that forces individuals to change their conduct.

Attorney Gabi Lasky of Gush Shalom brought up a concrete case, in which her clients were forced to remove a website urging people not to buy products from settlements located in occupied land.

“The legislation itself restricted their political expression. And what did the state do? It used the political majority to infringe on the minority’s rights and freedom of expression,” Lasky said.

The judges put off their ruling regarding the order nisi and will state their opinion at a later date.

Israeli leftist activists protest the boycott law in Jerusalem, July 12, 2011. Credit: Emil Salman

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