Knesset Legal Adviser Blocks Proposed Fines on Repeated Calls to Boycott Israel or Settlements

Proposed amendment stipulating $28,000 fine raises significant legal difficulties and contradicts a High Court of Justice ruling on the subject, adviser says

File photo: Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Smoliansky (Habayit Hayehudi)
Yitzhak Harari / Spokesperson

The Knesset’s legal adviser’s office has blocked an amendment to the Boycott Law that would allow courts to require payment of 100,000 shekels (around $28,000) in compensation without requiring proof of damage from anyone who “maliciously, more than once,” calls to boycott Israel or the settlements. The levy could reach 500,000 shekels if it can be proved the activity was systematic.

The adviser’s legal opinion, submitted Tuesday, states that the proposal raises significant legal difficulties and contradicts a High Court of Justice ruling on the subject.

Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Smoliansky (Habayit Hayehudi) is expected to examine alternatives that will enable the bill to advance. “There is distress here among people who are being boycotted by BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] organizations and the like. We must provide a solution so that the boycott doesn’t harm them.”

The original Boycott Law, passed in 2011, allows restrictions to be imposed on individuals or entities that call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements. The law allows them to be blocked from submitting bids on government projects or getting tax exemptions for their social welfare associations.

The bill, submitted by MK Yoav Kish (Likud), was approved in a preliminary reading at the end of last year. It was backed by Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. In a Knesset debate last November, Erdan said, “The purpose of the law is to convey a clear message to the main boycott organizations that the price for harming citizens of the State of Israel could boomerang on them. These boycott organizations use a lot of falsehoods and distorted reality and try to disseminate them around the world.”

Three years ago, the High Court of Justice, in response to a petition by journalist Uri Avnery, struck down a clause in the law that allowed unlimited compensation payments to be imposed without proof of damages, but allowed claimants to sue for compensation from boycott supporters if damage could be proven. The justices said the voided clause would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The legal opinion submitted before a hearing Wednesday says the new bill, “Raises significant constitutional difficulties.” According to the opinion, “Despite the offensive nature of a boycott call, it is still an expression covered by the right to freedom of expression and is considered a nonviolent tool for political change. Accordingly, calls for a boycott on ideological, social or religious grounds are a common, albeit controversial tool used in public debates, and which usually does not lead to the imposition of tort liability or administrative restrictions.”

The opinion continues: “In the public discourse there are calls for boycotts directed at artists because of their political statements, at academic institutions for expressing controversial positions, or against controversial artistic works, or against entities that do not observe kashrut.” The legal advisory team recommended that, in view of the difficulties, “Alternatives to the proposed arrangement should be considered that would be congruent with accepted constitutional tests.”