Israeli Lawmakers Push Prison Time for Pro-boycott Activists

New bill, sponsored by lawmakers from the governing coalition, attempts to hold those who encourage economic and academic boycotts accountable for their actions

A woman holds a sign which reads "Boycott Israel" in front of symbolic coffins while attending a demonstration supporting Palestine, in Berlin August 1, 2014.
Steffi Loos/Reuters

A bill sponsored by members of two parties in the governing coalition would allow activists who promote anti-Israel boycotts to be charged with a crime carrying a penalty of up to seven years in jail.

According to the proposed legislation, the crime in question, which already exists in the penal code, harms “Israel’s interests or Israel’s relations with a country, organization or institution.” The new element of the bill is including the promotion of anti-Israel boycotts as one of the acts that can result in indictment on this charge.

The bill was originally sponsored by Anat Berko (Likud) and has acquired four more co-sponsors: Coalition whip David Bitan, David Amsalem (Likud) and lawmakers Yfat Shasha-Biton and Tali Plosko (Kulanu).

“This bill is meant to apply to anyone who takes an active part in a movement that boycotts Israel or its products,” the bill’s explanatory notes said. “It’s possible to criticize Israel, and freedom of expression shouldn’t be undermined, heaven forbid, but anyone who lends a hand to a boycott that harms Israel’s economy or harms it in other ways, like an academic boycott, must be called to account for it. This is the difference between legitimate criticism and an assault that is a thuggish act in itself (boycott) and causes harm Israel and its citizens.”

The bill also says that if a boycott activist caused intentional harm, he could be liable for a prison term of up to 10 years or, in certain cases, even life.

“Given the fact that there are people who have hooked up with the state’s enemies and with boycotts against it, which damage the state’s image,” the existing provision of the penal code should be expanded to include “not just cases in which crimes were committed to harm Israel, but also [other] acts that have the potential to hurt Israel’s interests or Israel’s relations with a country, organization or institution,” the explanatory notes concluded.

The boycotts bill was submitted a day after legislation aimed at silencing the police passed its first reading in the Knesset. It blocks the police from making recommendations to prosecutors after an investigation into a public official.

Kulanu backed that bill even though the party chairman, Moshe Kahlon, initially said that he would not support legislation applying to ongoing police investigation (as in the case of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). On Tuesday it was reported that Likud lawmakers threatened Kulanu with an early election if they didn’t support the bill.