Israel has initiated strong legislative measures to combat the growing momentum in support of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli policies. The Land of Israel lobby, the Knesset’s largest lobby, recently promulgated the “Prohibition on Instituting a Boycott Bill” which, if passed, will criminalize any call for an economic or academic boycott of Israel, and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has said that the government will begin taking action against academics joining the call for boycott.
Israel has initiated legislation to criminalise support for the BDS movement, both by Israelis and internationals.
“It is prohibited to initiate a boycott against the State of Israel, to encourage participation in it, or to provide assistance or information with the purpose of advancing it,” section 2 of the proposed bill states.
The bill was submitted on 9 June 2010 by 25 Knesset members and endorsed by members of various factions, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi, according to Israel’s Ynet News.
Sections 3 and 4 of the proposed legislation state that, “An act of a citizen or resident of Israel in violation of Section 2 constitutes a civil wrong, and it will be subject to the provisions of the Torts Ordinance,” and “The court will award compensation for the civil wrong according to this law in the following manner: a. Punitive damages of up to 30,000 NIS to an injured party subject to the proof of any damage.”
If proven they participated in a boycott, individuals who are not citizens or residents of Israel can also be punished by having their right to enter the country denied for at least 10 years, according to the proposed legislation.
The bill's initiators say it aims "to protect the State of Israel and particularly its citizens from academic, economic, and other boycotts.”
The first united Palestinian civil society call for boycott came in 2005, and since then the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has grown significantly in the West Bank, and abroad, and is gaining more support within Israel.
The official BDS call states, “These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”
The Palestinian Authority recently stepped up efforts in its settlement boycott, and is receiving growing support from residents the West Bank. To help Palestinian workers quit settlement jobs by the end of 2010, the PA is attempting to raise $50 million for a “dignity fund.”
The PA’s Ministry of National Economy's Department of Industry, Trade and Consumer Services has also established an 80-member monitoring team that visits West Bank cities and villages, inspecting for settlement made goods to confiscate. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the department has “drafted a law, signed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and awaiting the signature of President Mahmoud Abbas, that would make it illegal for Palestinians to sell settlement products, on pain of heavy fines and jail time.”
Following the announcement, Knesset speaker Ruby Rivlin charged that the Palestinian Authority had “declared war” on the Israeli economy and the Land of Israel Lobby called on Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to close air and seaports to Palestinian goods, according to Ynet. The new suggested boycott bill comes in direct response to the PA’s decision.
The Israeli group Boycott from Within has been successful in, amongst other actions, supporting the cultural boycott of Israel, which has resulted in concert cancelations this year by Elvis Costello, the Pixies, Devendra Banhart, and others.
UNISON, the largest public sector union in the UK, with around 1.4 million members, also recently voted to support a boycott of Israel. The union has joined the BDS campaign and will suspend ties with the Histadrut, Israel's primary trade union.
In 2009, the University of Sussex Students’ Union became the first in the UK to execute a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods, and in 2010 the University and College Union (UCU), the largest academic union in the UK which includes both staff and students, voted by an overwhelming majority to "sever all relations with the Histadrut" and investigate relations with the Ariel University Center, located in the West Bank, according to an article by Emir Richmond for the AIC.
Israel is not alone in adopting antiboycott legislation. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security has an Antiboycott Compliance specifically on the subject of Israel.
“The Bureau is charged with administering and enforcing the Antiboycott Laws under the Export Administration Act. Those laws discourage, and in some circumstances, prohibit U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain Moslem countries, including complying with certain requests for information designed to verify compliance with the boycott. Compliance with such requests may be prohibited by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and may be reportable to the Bureau,” their website states, though the U.S law is aimed at direct action and says nothing about calling for the support of boycott and providing information.
“The penalties imposed for each “knowing” violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved, whichever is greater, and imprisonment of up to five years. During periods when the EAR are continued in effect by an Executive Order issued pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the criminal penalties for each “willful” violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for up to ten years.”
Their website also includes electronic forms and a phone number for reporting boycott requests and violations.
The proposed Israeli law seeks to criminalize calls for boycott up to one year prior to the law coming into effect, leaving little by way of intimidation value – anyone who has called for boycott already has no reason to stop.
The Land of Israel lobby, initiators of the antiboycott bill, clearly finds no issue with Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank. Some of the goals of the group, stated on their website, include: Strengthening of the state of Israel’s hold on all parts of the country of Israel and in particular Judea and Samaria [West Bank]; Prevention of any harm to the settlement and the security of Judea and Samaria; Promoting legislation that strengthens the settlement; Strengthening the Jewish people’s legal standing in the whole of the country of Israel; Strengthening the national-Jewish-Zionist awareness and Hasbara, inasmuch as in the population inside Israel as towards other states, regarding Israel’s right to the Judea and Samaria geographic regions (on their website in Hebrew).
In keeping with recent antiboycott trends, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said the government will act during the summer against academics who joined the call for a boycott against Israel, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
This comes after a report released by the extreme-right Zionist organization Im Tirtzu stated that 80 percent of the research papers taught at political science courses in Israeli universities are "anti-Zionist and anti-nationalist." The report was roundly criticized by academics and public figures, wrote Haaretz, but Im Tirtzu officials said they stood behind the study.
Professor Neve Gordon, of Ben-Gurion University, and a number of other Israeli academics that have openly come out in support of an academic boycott would be punished by both Knessett actions, if approved. Exchanges such as Tel Aviv University hosting Hassan Abu Libda, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Economy, which took place earlier this June at a seminar on the topic of the PA boycott against Jewish goods made in the West Bank, would also not occur. Neve Gordon also received a threat letter recently.
"It would behoove the education minister to ignore the report, which emits an aroma of McCarthyism," said Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, the rector of the University of Haifa, in response to the Im Tirtzu report. "I hope he will understand the gravity of the very fact of monitoring and informing on lecturers, and of whether he even needs to take seriously an organization like Im Tirtzu, which causes incitement."
Israeli, Palestinians and internationals should be cautioned that actions like the anti-boycott bill in Israel, the Antiboycott Compliance in the U.S., and the Education Ministry’s punishment of academics violates and discourages freedom of speech of speech, freedom of choice, and the citizen’s democratic right to seek change.