A Bill That Seeks to Silence Israeli Lawmakers

The sponsors of this so-called anti-boycott legislation are not thinking first and foremost of protecting Israel, but rather of protecting the government and its occupation policy.

Mural calling for boycott of Israeli goods in West Bank
A mural calling for a boycott Israeli goods in the al-Azzeh refugee camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, September 17, 2014. AFP

While Israel is dealing with a wave of terror, an acute, racist rupture in its society and international criticism of its policy in the territories, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is due to discuss on Sunday a dramatic bill that could inflict a fatal blow to the democratic procedure in the country.

The bill, submitted by MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), wishes to amend the party funding law by enabling a public committee to deny funding to any party “calling for a boycott of Israel.”

The reasons given for the bill focus on Israel’s struggle against the movements aiming to delegitimize it in the eyes of world, the cost of the boycott to the state’s economy and anti-Semitism. It refers to the definition of boycott that appears in the so-called “boycott law” of 2011, which includes, inter alia, refraining from economic or cultural ties with a person or a group due to their affiliation with “a region controlled by Israel,” i.e. the West Bank.

One is therefore given to understand that that the sponsors of the bill are not thinking first and foremost of protecting Israel from boycott, but rather of protecting the government and its occupation policy. They are not thinking of war against Israel’s de-legitimization in the world, but of gagging those who oppose the government – a move that will only corroborate the claim that there is no real democracy in Israel.

Funding is the oxygen of all political parties. Denying such funding seriously impacts the freedom to vote and be elected to the Knesset, because one can only be elected to Israel’s parliament by means of a party and a Knesset list. Violating the freedom to vote and be elected on the basis of expressing an opinion undermines the democratic system in the most formal and granular way – holding free, equal elections.

Although calling for a boycott is not a criminal offense, the bill would in fact override Knesset immunity, which grants its members freedom of action in expressing their views and carrying out their duty, apart from exceptions like calling for terror and inciting to racism.

The bill wants to silence the members of the Knesset and violate their political freedom of expression at the most controversial and critical juncture in Israeli political discourse – the issue of the territories. Gagging public representatives is a trait of regimes that cannot tolerate criticism or deal with opinions that are not part of the consensus.

The Ministerial Committee would do well to reject the bill out of hand, as the only thing it would convey is the government’s intolerance of entire communities in Israel. The incitement against Arabs and against anyone who opposes the occupation and supports equal rights is sufficiently vicious without the Israeli government giving it an official stamp of approval.