Israeli Lawmakers Will Be Able to Prevent Colleagues From Flying at Expense of pro-BDS Groups

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon expresses reservations about the original version of the amendment: 'A boycott is part of freedom of expression'

Pro-Palestinian activists stage protests in the U.K., August 2, 2014.
CITIZENSIDE/Terry Scott

The Knesset House Committee on Monday approved an amendment that will make it possible to prevent organizations calling for a boycott against Israel or the settlements to fund MKs’ trips abroad for participation in conferences.

The wording of the amendment to the Rules of Ethics was softened at the request of MK Benny Begin (Likud), and it allows the Ethics Committee to “consider withholding approval” of the funding of the trip, instead of simply forbidding it.

This change was made after Begin objected to the wording of the ban, which was initiated by MK Yoav Kish (Likud). According to the original version, the committee would reject all MKs’ trips funded by these organizations, unless it decided to make an exception in certain cases.

But Begin asked, “Why shouldn’t the default option be to approve the trips, unless?” Therefore, it has now been decided that the committee will be able to permit the funding of the trips if it so decides. In addition, MKs will be able to fly abroad and participate in the conferences of these organizations with funds from their personal budget.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon had also expressed reservations about the original version of the amendment. “A boycott is part of freedom of expression,” said Yinon. “There’s a religious, economic and political boycott. It’s not something illegitimate.” However, he added that MKs are allowed to changes the Rules of Ethics.

But if the decision remains in place, the list of organizations that will not be able to fund the flights will be based on the list drawn up by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was designed to prevent the entry of their activists into Israel. Begin had reservations about this clause as well, and last week he warned of the damage to the status of the Knesset and to the separation of powers in Israel, due to the restriction on the flights of MKs based on a list drawn up by the executive branch rather than the Knesset.

Begin asked to receive an accompanying letter from the government that would clarify the criteria that led the Strategic Affairs Ministry to include these organizations on the list, but in the end, this proposal doesn’t appear in the final version.