A bill letting Israelis sue for compensation from anyone who calls for a boycott of the settlements or Israel — without needing to prove precise damages — has passed in a preliminary vote in the Knesset.
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The legislation, under which compensation could reach 500,000 shekels ($141,840), is an amendment to a broader law allowing such lawsuits. The new elements include the no-precise-damages stipulation and the monetary scale of possible suits
The amendment is designed to replace a section in the original boycott law that the High Court of Justice threw out two years ago.
MK Yoav Kish (Likud), the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would affect groups including Who Profits from the Occupation, which was founded by the Coalition of Women for Peace and has been campaigning against Israeli banks. Another group is Boycott from Within, which Kish accuses of promoting a cultural boycott.
Kish also mentioned Omar Barghouti, a leader of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement who possesses Israeli citizenship and sits on the Palestinian committee promoting an academic boycott of Israel.
The bill is supported by the Public Security Ministry, says its head, Gilad Erdan. “As the minister in charge of leading the fight against the boycott, I operate on all sorts of fronts to frustrate boycott initiatives,” Erdan said.
“We already see that the trend has been changing. We aren’t in a defensive position and apologizing. We know the truth about who stands behind [boycotters] and what their ideology is. They don’t want peace, they want to eliminate Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”
Erdan noted that his ministry had also promoted other bills and resolutions to frustrate boycott efforts, such as barring activists from entering Israel. “It has borne results,” he said.
Under the current bill, a person cannot be sued if he only calls for a boycott once. In some cases the compensation is limited to 100,000 shekels, but if the call is considered “systematic and organized,” the claim can reach 500,000 shekels.
MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) said the bill was just a way to bypass the High Court by inventing an infraction.
“The whole idea is to allow punishment without proving that a boycott caused damages,” Raz said. “Why hasn’t anybody been brought to trial over this in the past six years since the law was enacted? Because there is no such phenomenon.”
In April 2015, four years after the law’s enactment, an expanded panel of nine justices declined to throw out the whole law. But the justices ruled that for compensation to be awarded without proof of damages, maximum compensation had to be limited.
Justice Hanan Melcer wrote that law impaired freedom of expression but not disproportionately – except for the one section thrown out.
The boycott law lets the finance minister withdraw rights such as tax breaks or permission to bid for state contracts from anyone calling for a boycott or declaring that he would take part in one.