Bill That Would Heavily Fine anti-Israel Boycott Promoters Heads to Knesset

The bill is being advanced even though the government and the Knesset's legal adviser oppose it

Demonstrators wear shirts reading 'Boycott Israel' during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Paris, France, December 9, 2017.
Kamil Zihnioglu / AP

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would enable courts to order those calling for a boycott of Israel, including the settlements, to pay compensation, without there having to be proof that they caused tangible damages.

The bill was endorsed even though both the government and the Knesset’s legal adviser oppose it. The bill will now proceed to the full Knesset for the first of its three votes. If the Knesset plenum approves the bill in its first reading, it will return to the committee to be prepared for its final votes.

If the proposal is passed into law, courts will be able to impose compensation payments of up to 100,000 shekels ($28,000) on those who “maliciously, and more than once” call to boycott Israel or the settlements. The compensation could reach 500,000 shekels in punitive damages if is it is proved that the activities calling for a boycott were conducted in a systematic fashion.

Nine MKs supported the bill. Opposition lawmakers abstained. Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) supported the amendment but said he would delay it to reach understandings with the government.

The opinion of Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, submitted ahead of Wednesday’s session, said the bill “raises significant constitutional difficulties.” 

“Despite the offensive nature of a call to boycott, it is still an expression covered by the right to freedom of expression and is considered a nonviolent tool for political change,” wrote Yinon. 

The existing law states that individuals or organizations who publicize a call for an economic, cultural or academic boycott against a person or entity merely because of its affiliation to the State of Israel and/or an Israeli institution and/or a specific region under Israeli control, may be sued in a civil suit by a party claiming that it may have been harmed by such a boycott. 

Three years ago the High Court of Justice, in response to a petition from 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 damages could be proven. The justices said the voided clause would have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.