Israeli Bill Calling to Imprison BDS Activists for Up to Seven Years Will Be Rejected, Senior Official Says

A member of the Ministerial Committee tells Haaretz that the bill, which is slated to go on vote Sunday, isn't expected to pass ■ The bill calls for imprisonment of those hurting Israeli interests, but doesn't explain what they are

BDS supporters protesting in Tel Aviv, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to reject a bill on Sunday that proposes a seven-year jail term for anyone taking part in a boycott against Israel, a senior committee source said.

“The hurting Israel’s interests legislation won’t pass,” the source said.

The bill was initiated by MK Anat Berko (Likud) and is co-signed by MKs David Bittan, David Amsalem, Yoav Kisch as well as a few lawmakers from Kulanu and Haredi parties.

>> Analysis | Is Israel's anti-BDS detention policy stupid, evil - or both?

“The bill is intended for those who participate in the movement to boycott Israel or its products,” an explanatory introduction says. Sources close to Berko said the wording doesn’t clarify what it means by saying “Israeli interests,” which the legislation says it aims to protect, and will enable the prosecution of settlement boycotters as well, including those who eschew settlement products. The bill could also be used as a means to prosecute activities abroad such as those by representatives of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

Current law provides a maximum 10 year prison term for anyone convicted of attempting to do damage to Israel and a life sentence for more serious offenses.

Berko has submitted an amendment “which proposes to expand the law to include not only cases of actions taken to hurt Israel but also actions that could hurt Israeli interests or its relations with other countries or organizations.”

The bill’s initiators say “It is possible to criticize Israel, and freedom of expression shouldn’t be undermined, heaven forbid. But whoever lends a hand to boycotts, hurts the Israeli economy or hurts Israel in another way, such as by academic boycott, must be called to account for it. This is the difference between legitimate criticism and harm done by brutality. A (boycott) hurts Israel and its citizens.”

The Israeli Democracy Institute sent an opinion to ministers against the bill. The opinion written by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Dr. Amir Fuchs, says that the bill is liable to target government opponents. They write that it is unclear what constitutes Israeli interests and a citizen would not necessarily understand what the phrasing means. They call the bill “shameful, making a mockery of Israel and inappropriate for a democratic country.”

>> The ban on Lara Alqasem is a gift for BDS, and a disaster for Israel | Opinion

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has also protested against the bill. “Coalition members continue to compete with each other over who will propose the most extremist legislation. This time we have lawmakers seeking to make it a crime to exercise the freedom of speech and protest in an effort to quash all criticism of the occupation,” the organization said.

Attorney Michael Sfard added: “The bill’s current wording doesn’t focus on boycotts. In effect, it could be used to jail someone for seven years simply for criticizing Israel in forums abroad; in other words, the entire Israeli human rights community.”