Israeli Ministers to Discuss Bill Calling to Imprison BDS Activists for Up to Seven Years

Bill would apply to anyone who works to 'undermine Israel’s interests, its relations with any other country, organization or institution ... or any interest they have in Israel'

Pro-BDS activists in Tel Aviv, December 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss a bill on Sunday that would subject activists convicted of promoting a boycott of Israel to prison terms of up to seven years.

The bill would apply to anyone who works to “undermine Israel’s interests, its relations with any other country, organization or institution ... or any interest they have in Israel.” According to the bill’s explanatory notes, it is primarily meant “to apply to anyone who plays an active role in a movement that boycotts Israel or its products.”

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Under existing law, a person can be jailed for trying to harm Israel only if a crime was committed in the process. Such a person would face a sentence of up to 10 years, or even life imprisonment if the crime committed were a serious one.

The new bill, sponsored by MK Anat Berko (Likud), would expand the prohibition such that working to harm Israel’s interests or its international relations would be a crime even if no other crime were committed in the process. The bill has been co-sponsored by several other MKs from Likud, Kulanu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

“It’s possible to criticize Israel,” the explanatory notes say, “and freedom of expression shouldn’t be undermined, heaven forbid. But anyone who lends a hand to boycotts that harm Israel economically or harm it in another way, like academic boycotts, must be called to account for it. That is the difference between criticism, which is legitimate, and damage that’s a thuggish act in and of itself (boycotts) and harms Israel and its citizens.”

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Berko’s aides said the law’s vague language, which doesn’t specify which Israeli interests must be protected, would enable the law to be applied not just to boycotts of Israel as a whole, but also to boycotts of the settlements or settlement products.