On July 11th the Israeli Knesset passed the Law to Prevent Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott (English translation) holding individuals liable for damages if they promote boycott, and prohibiting state support for any organisation of body calling for boycotts of Israel.
Crucially the bill includes not only Israel but also “one of its institutions or an area under its control”. That is, the prohibition comprehends boycotts of settlements and the organs of occupation of Palestinian land. It is this which makes this new law an attack on the Israeli left and on solidarity with occupied Palestinians. We can see from this breakdown of how Members of the Knesset voted that the bill split the Knesset. All the Likud, Yisrael Betainu and Shas MKs who turned up voted for the bill along with the governing coalition’s religious nationalists and Ichud Leumi. None of the Labor MKs in coalition voted, and the opposition voted against.
And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu? Along with some other prominent politicians, he didn’t show up. Israelis do not have good leaders.
The general assumption seems to be that the Israeli street support the law and don’t want their tax shekels to fund any kind of boycott, even one to weaken the settler economy. I’m not so sure – I speculate this perceived support might be a case of demagoguery by politicians who were all too easily able to jab their fingers at the boycott campaign and say “This boycott isn’t about ending the occupation – it’s about ending Israel and ending you“. After all, this is still widely true and we’d expect anybody to move to a closed mindset when threatened.
It needs pointing out that this new law is the most palpable fruit of the boycott to date. Boycotters should regret the part they have played in this damaging new law and immediately rethink their strategies against occupation to align themselves with the needs of anti-occupation views within Israel.
Reactions – in the US and in Britain a surprising array of commentators, from (of course) boycotters like Anat Matar of ‘Who Profits?’ all the way over to boycotters’ hate figures NGO Monitor and Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, are united in objecting to the law. It becomes yet clearer that the lonely Zionist Federation doesn’t speak for many Zionists.
In Israel, Alex Stein mulls over the options for the Israeli left, which include the Supreme Court and civil disobedience, and does not find satisfactory answers. Israelis who call for boycott do so in veiled terms – except Peace Now, who have opted to immediately break the new law with a new campaign, Prosecute me! I boycott the settlements!, placing its government-issued not-for-profit status and consequent tax exemption in jeopardy. See also Peace Now debunking boycott law myths.
Appropriately enough for Knesset speaker, Reuven Rivlin (who didn’t vote) sounds the alarm for free expression and notes with appropriate national self-interest that the law “threatens to harm Israel’s standing in the international arena, and to play into the hands of all those who criticize and mock the quality of the democracy in the Jewish state”. Indeed European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has released a statement of concern.
So, all these groups are against outlawing a boycott of Israeli settlements. Where is the international solidarity movement for them? I think it should be clear by now that boycotting Israel is for ethical cheapskates – but when the chips are down we’d better be ready to put our hands in our pockets and shout very loudly on behalf of the anti-occupation groups who campaign to divest from the settlements and lose their funding and tax exemptions as a consequence.