The boycott law is anti-democratic


Sometimes the most important thing said on a blog is a comment, and many of the most salient issues or points come to light through the ensuing discussions. As such, this post is adapted from a series of comments on my last post to Jewschool.

Also, this law’s passage prompted me to make my personal views more know. I just made a pledge to boycott settlement goods — please join me and the thousands of Israelis who’ve already staken their claim to freedom of expression.

What is totally lost on anyone ignorantly caught up in hyperbole peddled by BDS advocates themselves, is that BDS is no threat to Israel or its existence. It is, by the admission of its very advocates, privately shared with me many times over, a PR tool to raise the prominence of their cause. BDS organizers know better than the public that the dependence of Israel’s economy on tourism and hi-tech greatly outnumbers any wine, produce, hummus or Dead Sea mud produced by the country’s manufacturing industries.

Parallels to South African boycotts are laughable, since the boycotts against South African manufacturing brought the country’s business sector to its knees. Israel, with all its integration into the global information economy, is in no such danger.

So in order to fight a fringe, non-existential, non-violent public relations action against Israel, the 70% of Israeli citizens who oppose the settlements should lose freedom? Really? You might as well legislate that one MUST buy products from the settlements.

The boycott law is wrong on philosophical and pragmatic levels. From the ACRI breakdown of how this law is not an equivalent to American boycott limitations, emphases mine:

1. US legislation bans only participation in boycott, the Israeli legislation bans also calls for boycott.

2. US legislation only restricts participation in a boycott initiated by a foreign government; Israeli legislation restricts all boycotts of Israel and the settlements

3. In the US, the federal government is the sole body charged with enforcing the law, and there is no opening for the intervening action of private bodies.

4. US law grants special protection to the boycott as an expression of conscience; the Israeli law not only does not protect it as an expression, but now formally says that boycott is a non-legitimate expression (only when it is a call for boycott of Israel or a territory under the control of Israel).

In America, this law would permit Shell Oil or KRB to sue me for suggesting — in print, at protests, on TV, on my blog — that we should cut down our oil dependence. It would permit the Montgomery bus company to sue Martin Luther King. It is, in essence, equivalent to Cuba and the Former Soviet Union’s “crimes against the economy” which served no purpose but to lock up dissidents. Some company.

Right now, any Israeli blogger caught — by any politician, by any one! — suggesting that one not buy settlement goods can be sued for every penny they own! The cost of defending the possibly dozens or hundreds of legal suits by any one individual could bankrupt them. While the defendant may exonerate themselves in court, freedom of expression should not be expensive.—  This is fundamentally un-democratic, to make freedom of expression the purview of the wealthy.

Also as a legal note, Israel has a trade agreement with the EU that products from the settlements should be labeled. Peace Now doesn’t have to create a list — it is the Israeli government which must do so, at least as long as it wants Europe’s business. Incidentally, part of the trade agreement is also permitting EU member states to fund civil society ventures in each other’s countries.

Lastly, this bill was never supposed to get to reach a final vote, much less pass. It passed. So we must ask, how many of the other 20+ anti-democratic initatives on the docket will the Knesset pass? Here is ACRI’s detailed list (DOC), including what the status of the bills/laws. I’ve pasted the table of contents below.

Bills that Were Passed in the Current Knesset
The Nakba Law
Acceptance to Communities Law
Revoking Citizenship for Persons Convicted of Terrorism or Espionage
Funding from Foreign State Entities
Bill Pardoning Protesters of the Gaza Disengagement
Abu Basma Bill on Regional Council Elections

Bills Being Promoted with Government Support
Prohibition on Instituting a Boycott Bill
Infiltration Bill
Binding Migrant Caretakers
Tribunal for Foreigners
Anti-Incitement Bill
Pledge of Allegiance Bill
Bill to Protect Israel’s Values
Preference in Services for Those who served in the Military
Preference in Public Service for Those who served in the Military

Bills Not Promoted due to Current Lack of Government Support
Bill on MKs’ Pledge of Allegiance
Government-Initiated Bills Intended to Restrict the Knesset’s Opposition
Cinema Bill
Bill on Ousting MKs
Bill to Bar Political Murderers and Terrorists from Voting
Bill Banning Veils in Public
Bill on Funding for Cultural Institutions

Bills the Government Has yet to Endorse or Reject
Associations Law – Amendment
Pledge of Allegiance for Civil Servants and Council Members
Denying Entry into Israel
Bill to Prevent Slandering of the State and its Institutions
Bill on Taxation of Organizations Funded by Foreign Entities
Bill on Dissolving Companies that Refuse to Operate in Any Part of the State

Bills Aimed at Weakening the Supreme Court
Basic Law: Constitution Court
Bill to Disallow High Court from Ruling on Citizenship Law
Bill Banning High Court from Ruling on Security-Related Matters
Bill to Defer High Court Rulings on Legality of Bills

Other Initiatives
Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry

The Israeli right’s lack of “democracy” in “Jewish democracy”


Anti-democracy alert: Likud Minister of Knesset Danny Danon proposed a new bill today which so fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of democracy and democratic institutions that I am left a bit breathless.

Terminology clarity: Democracy is not the tyranny of the majority but the protection of the rights of everyone. Democracy by definition grants the individual and minorities disproportionate security — precisely so that the whim of popularity cannot abuse the most vulnerable. This is the approach adopted by legacy Jewish institutions (back in their heyday) like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee; democracy protects us all. And in Israel, an otherwise vibrant democratic society, those lack of protections for minorities like Arabs grants Israel surprisingly low marks on civil liberties. And over the past year, Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wingers has proposed and enacted a slate of some two-dozen initiatives — bills and inquiries — that will depress those grades further!

It takes your breath away to hear the proposal made by MK Danon:

  • Only one case from any one petitioner at a time
  • Only petitions from Israelis and Israeli-registered entities
  • Every NGO will have to include a full list of donors’ identities and nature of their funds

Read his rationalle, quoted in Ynet:

“These petitions, which sometimes caused a serious change in a decision or governmental action even to the point of causing them to be canceled, carry great weight and recognizably influence the actions of the executive and legislative branches.”

Levin and Danon added that “when this information is made available to High Court justices they will be able to make sure that foreign causes supported by hostile groups cannot make their way into the court under the guise of public-interest petitions” … “hostile groups have been trying to influence the authorities’ actions under the guise of petitions in the name of the public good,” they wrote.

Does Danon even understand the principles of democracy? I have often mused on the different cultures between the United States and Israel, wherein our apparent likenesses seem only skin-deep on closer inspection.

The judicial system is the key to a properly functioning government. Danon has the audacity to complain that the High Court “recognizably influence[s] the actions of the executive and legislative branches.” Minister Danon: the high court of any land is supposed to influence the other two branches. Nay, to hold veto power over them both. The three-way system of checks and balances represents modern democracy. Every criticism of Iran, Egypt and Syria, among others, is based on the very real hegemony of the executive branch upon the other two.

Danon and his contemporaries in Likud and more rightward don’t believe in the “democracy” in “Jewish democracy” anymore than their Arab neighbors. They don’t believe in the rule of law, for how else could they pass a law as anti-democratic as this?

The very premise of this bill is not that we must execute law to its logical conclusion (the correct one), but that fairly implemented law is a problem in itself. We must stop petitions to the High Court, his reasoning goes, because if they reach the court, then we’ll be forced to implement them. We should throttle, limit, and filter the petitions before they reach the court, by restricting the number of cases at one time that an NGO or individual can appeal for justice. (This is akin to saying that the ACLU can only have one case in appeal at a time — preposterous and criminally unjust.)

And only Israeli citizens should be able to receive justice before the court — foreign workers, stateless Palestinians, other governments, and international bodies are prohibited. Precisely the very groups who Israeli law also expressly protects: those beneath Israeli sovereignty and subject to Israeli law either because they’re on Israeli soil or under Israeli occupation. (Remember that the High Court has upheld Israel’s obligations under the international laws of benevolent occupation to residents of the territories, including their right to appeal to the highest court of the land.)

And once these petitions (which seek to do things as harmful as insisting the military obey its own regulations! or the government obey its own Basic Laws!) reach the High Court, the judges should see not the legal logic but make a decision upon who the petitioner is, be they an international, Arab or leftist. Such discrimination is precisely what democracy was created to protect against, not enshrine: that all will be equal before the law. Is this not the very building block of democracy, liberal or otherwise?

Make no mistake, this law’s unintended consequences will boomerang against Jews as well. Let us presume that an American Jew finds her conversion revoked by the increasingly haredi rabbinate. She would then no longer be an Israeli citizen — and barred from approaching the High Court! Were her case to be taken up by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement or the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, their sound legal reasoning should be taken with a fatty grain of salt because they both receive funding from liberal American Jews. (None of whom can be pro-Israel at all because they do as Israelis do and disagree with government policy, right?)

This morning I received a briefing with Sari Bashi of Gisha: The Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, discussing the legal petitions before the High Court on various issues. The High Court, lacking a Constitutional protection of judicial review, is already hamstrung in ruling as the law dictates. If the court rules in line with law but out of step with populist demands, it may find its powers stripped by the Knesset. Which is no empty threat, as Sari detailed several times when rightists made moves to scale back the court’s powers. In America, we would never permit such a fundamental protection to be stripped entirely. Americans agree that healthy judicial review is a hallmark of a healthy democracy — one that protects us all on both right and left from the excesses of the other.

And while the Jewish establishment insists that its fight against “delegitimization” requires a belief in a Jewish and democratic state. Yet whenever you attend an Israel day parade or a pro-Israel rally, it’s clear that plenty gung ho American Jews in the crowd don’t believe in the “democracy” in “Jewish democracy.” In this increasing obsession with fighting delegitimization of Israel, they better apply their guidelines just as readily to the right as they do the left.

For all that American Jewish leaders derive succor from Israel’s “vibrant democracy,” this Knesset is trying its damndest to delegitimize itself. While a few major organizations uttered some tepid critiques of this accelerating trend, it certainly hasn’t stopped MK Danny Danon from proposing a replacement to his previous attempts to muzzle democracy.

When will the establishment spend their copious resources that?