The Walls of Paper Protecting the Occupation

Draft law imposing prison sentences on boycott activists seeks to block criticism, instead of fixing the faults that are the reason for critique

FILE PHOTO: A tourist photographs a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem on June 5, 2015

The draft law that would make promoting the boycott of Israel or of Israeli products a criminal offense carrying a minimum prison sentence of seven years must be rejected out of hand.

The bill, which was submitted by Likud MK Anat Berko and Kulanu MKs Yifat Shasha-Biton and Tali Ploskov and supported also by David Bitan and David Amsalem (Likud), must be seen as another bid by the ruling party to block all domestic or foreign criticism of Israeli policy in the territories, settlement-building and the very existence of the occupation.

The preamble of the bill states: “In light of the fact that there are individuals who make common cause with enemies of the state and boycotts against it, causing harm to the state’s image, it is proposed that the offense be broadened to include acts that can hurt Israel’s interests or Israel’s relations with a state, organization or institution.”

This expands the definition of the existing offense in the penal code, which applies to anyone who damages Israel’s relations with other states and institutions.

The sponsors are convinced that Israel’s foreign relations are determined by the volume of criticism of its policies, rather than the reality created by these policies. Thus, if the state could only gag the opponents of its policies with draconian punishments, countries and international organizations would accept the occupation and the grave violation of human rights as the “natural order.”

This is a blatantly immoral bill, tainted with cowardice and hypocrisy: After all, Israel cannot imprison banks, retail chains, corporations and academic institutions that boycott settlement goods. Israel is building a paper wall of draft laws in which it seeks to wrap the occupation and defend itself from countries’ partial boycott of the settlements.

This bill joins an amendment to the boycott law, passed in preliminary reading last week, allowing Israelis to sue anyone calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements and receive up to 500,000 shekels (around $142,000), without having to prove precise damages.

The inherent distortion of justice and morality in these two bills — blocking the right to challenge the government’s policy and legitimizing the occupation — that is what harms Israel’s interests and image. Criticism, which includes calls for a boycott is a part, is what could return Israel to the straight and narrow.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.