Knesset Legal Adviser: Boycott Is Legitimate Part of Freedom of Expression

However, the Knesset can set ethical guidelines preventing lawmakers from travelling at the expense of groups that support a boycott of Israel, he says

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A pro-Palestinian BDS protest in Paris, France August 13, 2015
A pro-Palestinian BDS protest in Paris, France August 13, 2015Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said that the parliamentary body is allowed to set ethical guidelines that would prohibit Knesset members from traveling at the expense of organizations that support a boycott of Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He conceded that a boycott "is part of the freedom of expression" but said that lawmakers could be restricted in a way that ordinary citizens are not.

Likud's Yoav Kish is lobbying for new ethics rules that would forbid certain groups from financing fellow lawmakers' trips abroad. The list of organizations would be based on the blacklist created by the Strategic Affairs Ministry earlier this month. Activists of the organizations on the blacklist will be barred from entering the country.

Kish has asserted that one of the groups on the blacklist, American Muslims for Palestine, had funded a trip for lawmaker Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List.

Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset House Committee where a discussion on ratifying the new guidelines took place, Yinon said, "A boycott is part of the freedom of expression. There are economic, religious and political kinds of boycotts. This is not something that has no legitimacy," said Yinon. He spoke at a meeting of the Knesset House Committee during a discussion on ratifying the new guidelines. "It is definitely an extreme measure," he continued. "The historical conception of the law of immunity holds that in these matters, more freedom of operation should be granted, but you are allowed to change this trend."

Yinon clarified that the proposed guidelines would not prevent Knesset members from attending or speaking at conferences organized by groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but would only apply to the groups funding the lawmakers' flights to get to such events.

He called for leaving room for the committee’s consideration in exceptional cases. “There could be a case in which an MK is invited by an organization wishing to promote a boycott, but he goes there with the intention of convincing them otherwise,” he said.

"The fact that the ethics committee approves travel to [an event of] such an organization is significant," Yinon added. "Others would say that these organizations’ activities were not forbidden. No one would prevent a Knesset member from traveling at his own expense. We impose restriction on MKs that are not imposed on ordinary citizens."

The legal adviser reminded those present that during the previous Knesset term, lawmakers introduced changes in the state's attitude toward groups calling for a boycott of Israel and the settlements. He noted that "the legislator marked some changes in the way boycotts were viewed and demarcated far-reaching authority which had not been introduced before in these matters." 

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