Knesset to Promote Anti-Boycott Bill to Second and Third Reading

Monday, June 27, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will deliberate the "Damage to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott- 2011" bill. The bill was proposed in the Knesset on July 2010 by head of the coalition, MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and other MK's. The bill is focused on preventing citizens of Israel from protesting against the occupation by means of initiating a boycott. The bill passed first reading in the Knesset plenum on March 7, 2011, despite severe criticism from governmental ministries and leading civil society organizations. The bill defines a call for boycott as a tort, for which the court may rule compensation without obligation to prove damage. The bill further authorizes the Minister of Finance to limit the participation of companies that have committed themselves not to work within settlements beyond the "Green Line", in state tenders. ('Rawabi Clause') In prior deliberations in the Knesset, the bill was met with harsh resistance of the government offices. The legal advisor of the Ministry of Justice staunchly criticized the bill for use of generalized and vague language. This was answered by the Committee Chairman, David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu): "The private positions of the Ministry of Justice have long ceased to interests this committee." Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed his concern that contrary to the intent of its initiators, the law will actually harm Israel's image and international relations. Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor representative added within the deliberations that "salving Israel's problems by creating international crisis is not a good idea." The bill is one of the most dangerous anti-democratic laws promoted in this current Knesset. Boycott is a non-violent, legal and legitimate means to promote social and political aims that is protected in civil rights of freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. The bill constitutes a fatal blow to all these civil rights. In Israel, as well as in the rest of the world there is extensive use of boycott as a means to achieving social and consumer ends. The proposed law is targeting only a very specific form of calls to boycott, of groups and movements of the opposition, who resist the occupation and consist, today, of the political minority in Israel. As such, the proposed law tramples upon civil rights and basic democratic norms and has a "chilling effect" on civil society. Many states have opted not to promote legislation that directly prohibits boycotting. Even states which did do so- such as the USA and Germany- don't restrict individuals and civil society organizations in actualizing boycotts. This results from an understanding that it would be a severe violation of the freedom of expression. Contrary to the explanation clause in the proposed bill, the legislation in the USA only refers to boycotts that have been announced by states and applies to corporations and not to individuals or political groups.