If there is a national sin of which it behoves us to repent at this season, as we review our deeds of the past year, it is the Boycott Law, passed in July. The law, providing for, in effect, penal damages payable by anyone who calls for a boycott of any Israeli entity, is an affront to our civil liberties, and an abuse of political power. It does not even do what those who originally proposed legislation in this area wanted, which was to punish Israeli companies that comply with a Palestinian boycott, and impose tit-for-tat sanctions on the Palestinians. That would have been a legitimate measure. Instead, we got this nasty piece of political spite. The summer protests exposed many faults of Israeli society, but they were also a manifestation of our freedoms. The Boycott Law is an insidious underminer of freedom.
If anyone thinks that that is a left-wing whinge, they should read or re-read Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin's eloquent and brave article in "Haaretz", denouncing his Likud party's betrayal of its libertarian principles. Even former minister of justice Daniel Friedmann, hardly a friend of judicial activism, as much as said that the High Court of Justice ought to void this law as unconstitutional.
We are told that we should not just repent of specific acts on Yom Kippur, but also examine ourselves for undesirable character traits. The Boycott Law is symptomatic of a very ugly trait emerging in Israeli politics. That trait is perfectly exemplified by Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov's response to questions about damage to Israel's image if the Knesset decided to investigate the funding of human rights organizations. The damage abroad, he said, arises from the debate in Israel itself. You get the idea.
That particular proposal fell, but there are plenty more of its kind in the pipeline. We needn't yet get hysterical about the end of Israeli democracy, but sadly, it is yellowing at the edges.
It is fair to ask for some soul searching by our friends as well. A law such as the Boycott Law would almost certainly be struck down in the US under the first amendment to that country's constitution, protecting freedom of speech. Yet President of the Zionist Organization of America Morton A. Klein was prepared to defend it. Even if one were to concede his unlikely claim that international boycott efforts present an existential threat to Israel, this law does nothing whatsoever to counter such a threat. By making Israel appear more repressive, it can only encourage the boycotters and confer legitimacy on their actions. Sponsors of measures like these do not understand, or for political advantage affect not to understand, the simple truth that the freer Israel is, the stronger it is.
Mr. Klein compares the Boycott Law to US legislation against the Arab boycott. Had the law been passed in its original form, as mentioned above, that comparison might have been convincing; as the law stands, the comparison is untenable.
Diaspora defenders of the legislation sounded like someone in a house with rising damp persuading himself that, from a certain angle, in a certain light, the mold on the walls is really quite attractive. Of course, Diaspora Jewish leaders are in a tough spot. The battle lines are being drawn in Israel between liberal and anti-liberal forces, and they will find it hard to stay out of the fray. All that can be asked of them is that they should not sell us short; that they should not condone measures in our country that they would find unconscionable in their own.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 6, 2011
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