Opinion |

The New Anti-boycott Law Is anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish

Frustrated by their failure to annex, right wingers exact a price tag from opponents of Jewish presence in the West Bank.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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A London taxi drives by a pro-Palestinian rally in Parliament Square, London, October 13, 2014.
A London taxi drives by a pro-Palestinian rally in Parliament Square, London, October 13, 2014.Credit: Leon Neal/AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Last October, a group of well-respected American intellectuals issued a petition calling for an economic boycott of Jewish settlements in the territories. About 240 professors, authors and commentators, mostly Jewish and some Israeli, have signed the petition until now. Some of the signatories view themselves as Zionists but all of them support Israel’s right to exist and oppose an overall BDS-type boycott against Israel. From now on, Israeli law explicitly bans their entry to Israel and implicitly brands them enemies of the state.

It’s hard to decide whether the “Entry to Israel Act, Denial of Visa to Non-Residents Who Knowingly Call for a Boycott on Israel” – which also applies to calls for a boycott of settlements alone – is more outrageous or more moronic. The competition is definitely tight. The measure, approved by the Knesset on Monday, is already causing Israel more damage than the scores of people whose entry to the country will henceforth be denied – and the harm has just begun. Each and every incident in which a supporter of boycotting settlements will be stopped at Ben-Gurion Airport and sent back home, after being interrogated by the Border Police about his statements and thoughts, will drive another nail into the coffin of Israel’s image as an enlightened, democratic and ultimately rational state.

The new restriction is anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish in its very essence. It compels the many Jews and non-Jews who support the State of Israel but vehemently oppose the settlement project to choose between the two. Feeling insulted and rejected, some, if not most, will abandon Israel altogether. For the first time in the history of Zionism, Israel is stipulating that Jews who are combatting its policies abroad are persona non grata in the Jewish State. The law creates an absurdity whereby a Jew who has voiced support for a boycott of settlements will be barred from entering as a tourist but will nonetheless be eligible for automatic citizenship if he or she make aliyah. Perhaps this lacuna will also be plugged in the future, and Jewish Agency emissaries will be asked to conduct a thorough political investigation of Jews wishing to immigrate.

The settlement project is a matter of harsh political disagreement. Many on the left, in Israel and abroad, view settlements as an existential danger to the future of Israel. A public call for voluntary boycott against such a perceived threat is a basic democratic right in any normal civil society. Together with a previous Knesset law from 2011, which made Israeli citizens who espouse a boycott of settlements liable for damages, the new law takes Israel one more step down the slippery slope, if not an actual free-fall, of curtailing freedom of speech and instituting thought police instead. The next logical step can only be to outlaw criticism of settlements, and not just calls for boycott.

Although members of the coalition try to pretend otherwise, the settlements are not an integral part of the State of Israel. In theory, much of the right wing supports annexation, but in practice they’re quaking in their boots, fearful of an angry reaction by our lords and masters in Washington, as Defense Minister Lieberman warned the other day. To compensate for their own impotence, right-wing lawmakers are sublimating by playing make-believe, as if the settlements and Israel inside the Green Line are one and the same. People who don’t play along are made to pay a price tag, just like Palestinians in the West Bank. One day, it will come back like a boomerang to haunt them.

Contrary to what some if its adherents may believe, the right isn’t going to rule Israel for a thousand years. One day the left will get back in power and it too won’t want to “help those who want to hurt me,” as one of the new law’s sponsors, Habayit Hayehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich disingenuously put it in the Knesset debate on Monday. Many people on the left, for example, are convinced that American Jews who contribute funds to delusional yeshivas in Judea and Samaria, oppose a two-state solution and call leftist Jews “kapos” cause far more damage to the state than naive liberals who support a settlement boycott. Using the same precedent, a day might come in which the Border Police will block the entry of people like U.S. Ambassador-designate David Friedman. Using other laws that are still in the right wing’s pipelines, it will be left for the regular police to deal with Smotrich and his nationalistic allies.

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