Israel's anti-BDS Ministry Pushes to Keep Its Activities Secret

Draft legislation meant to ensure the confidentiality of the Strategic Affairs Ministry's activities against the BDS movement, also those carried out through non-governmental groups on campuses abroad

Supporters of Palestinians hold a placard, black background with orange lettering, with the word "Boycott" during a demonstration in Paris, France, June 24, 2015.
Jacques Brinon, AP

The Strategic Affairs Ministry circulated on Tuesday draft legislation that would exclude its activities from provisions of the Freedom of Information law. The draft legislation is meant to ensure the confidentiality of the ministry's activities against the BDS movement and foreign groups working to promote a boycott of Israel, also those carried out clandestinely through non-governmental groups for Israel on campuses abroad and elsewhere.

"To enable the ministry to fulfill its functions effectively, it is suggested to exclude from the provisions of the Freedom of Information law the ministry's activities within the framework of the responsibilities imposed on it by the government to lead the campaign against the phenomenon of de-legitimization and boycotts against Israel," according to the proposal's explanatory notes. "Successful management of the campaign requires that it be kept under maximum ambiguity."

In October 2015, the cabinet awarded the ministry, headed by Minister Gilad Erdan, the "comprehensive responsibility for leading the campaign against the phenomenon of de-legitimization and boycotts against Israel." Tuesday's explanatory notes outlined the ministry's activities against groups calling for boycott, which are comprised of four "tracks": warning, deterrence, attack and public diplomacy.

Last March, Haaretz reported that Erdan was looking to create a database of Israeli citizens who support a boycott of Israel, days after the Knesset passed a law forbidding the entry to Israel of foreign boycott supporters. Erdan explained that the database would include mostly public information – publications in the media and social networks – and estimated that it would be necessary to monitor dozens of "significant" activists.

Following the report, Erdan said that "there's a need to watch their steps in order to thwart attacks." The Justice Ministry opposed the initiative, claiming that it would be inappropriate to give a ministry the authority to monitor Israeli citizens, an authority which only the Shin Bet security service possesses.

Last year, it was reported that the ministry recruited personnel to head a "smear campaign" division in charge of collecting information on "organizations and those who lead de-legitimization in order to create counter-de-legitimization including directly and through non-governmental entities."