This is a guest post by Joel Weiner, responding to Jonathan Hoffman’s comment about the boycott bill

Jonathan, much as I usually have respect for your unreserved and unending support for the State of Israel, which is so lacking in many other people who should have it, I simply can’t agree with you here. I’ll show you what I wrote in a recent email to a friend:

‘The boycott law is terrible. It’s shocking, it disgusts me, and I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way it sits in a society that usually I’m very proud to call myself a part of. Israel has until now been not only the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, but also a shining example to all of what a proper democracy would look like – even amid the hardships of having a sometimes hostile minority within the State. And yet these beacons of democratic freedoms are being hacked away at by a stupid Government which doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, about the importance of democratic freedoms, and also doesn’t appreciate the work we’re trying to do in the diaspora on Israel’s behalf – every time we talk about Israel being the only liberal democracy and so on.

‘How can we say that now? How can we defend a country whose Parliament passes a law to make it illegal to oppose Government policy? Of course boycotts are harmful and unhelpful and do nothing for the cause of peace or justice; but how can the proponents of this bill claim to be helping the situation when they’re just cutting down on the people’s right to protest?’

So I’d like to highlight again- I do not support any kind of boycott against Israel. I hate the BDS-ers, who in my opinion are insulting the good people of South Africa who had to live under a genuine apartheid regime. My support for Israel, like yours Jonathan, is unreserved.

But I think our support can be more credible if we’re not constantly allowing ourselves to be used as Netanyahu’s (or Lieberman’s) mouthpiece. We should look at this law objectively and say that, no, it doesn’t help our cause against the boycotters. By making them illegal it only helps their campaign to portray Israel as a totalitarian State. Their boycotts may frustrate us no end, but the answer isn’t just to deem them illegal.

I find it very difficult to agree with your comparison between the ‘existential threat’ to Israel of the boycotts, and the ‘existential threat’ to Britain of IRA terrorists. Israel can deal with the boycotts. The Government should stop sitting on the fence and start to take a stand: either show that it’s willing to compromise on the settlements by making real concessions; or present Israel’s case for the strategic, cultural and historical justification for settlements (as opposed to just making lame public statements of support for concerts in the Ariel cultural centre).

And finally: we can’t constantly rely on the Supreme Court for its common sense as a last beacon of democracy; we should expect our politicians to do that in the first place.

(PS – It goes without saying that Roger Waters is a total muppet.)

18 Responses to “Guest post: 'The boycott law disgusts me'”

  1. Dov says:

    Am a little confused by all this. The new law has key components, one is the ability to sue someone who calls for a boycott and the other is to ensure thatnthose who do call for boycotts lose their ability to go government tenders and therefore contracts. Why is this unacceptable to people? After all I hear no outcry at the death sentence handed down by the PA when Palestinians sell land to Jews, is murder now more acceptable then the ability to litigate?

    I am not now nor have I ever been a supporter of Netanyahu or Liberman. In fact I have voted for either Meretz or Labour when I have been in Israel during election times, but enough is enough. If my fellow citizens don’t like the law, including those in Kadima, then at the next election they have the ability to vote in a government who will rescind it.

    • Joel says:

      I am not disputing the fact that the PA isn’t even in the same league when we’re talking about issues of democracy and human rights. Passing a law to prosecute citizens who call for a boycott isn’t anywhere near the cruelty of the PA’s death sentence for selling land to Jews. And I’m not claiming for one second that it is.

      But isn’t that just the point? Why are we comparing ourselves to them? How can we say that ‘our undemocratic laws are all right because at least we don’t have a death sentence’? Shouldn’t we be holding ourselves to a higher standard than that?

      “Why is this unacceptable to people?” you ask. It’s totally unacceptable because when I say that I support the State of Israel, I (used to) do so in the full confidence that it is a place that values freedom of speech, and with it the freedom to protest. People who call for boycotts should be challenged publicly, and criticised for their actions; but to bar them from doing so by law means that we’ve outlawed any room for debate – what the Government says goes. And that is a very sorry situation to be in.

      • Dov says:

        Joel I think our difference here is you are claiming these are undemocratic laws – how so? A democratically elected government put forward legislation thatbwas voted upon and enacted up. The following is directly lifted from the JP this morning because I think it says it better then I ever could.

        “Don’t be confused – I authorized the bill. If I hadn’t authorized it, it wouldn’t have gotten here,” he said. “I am opposed to boycotts against Israel and boycotts against groups within Israel. I oppose boycotts of Arabs, of haredi people, and of any citizens of Israel.”

        The newly-passed “Boycott Bill” allows citizens to sue organizations or persons calling for a boycott against Israel or parts of Israel, and forbids the government from funding such organizations. Gush Shalom submitted a petition against the anti-boycott measure to the High Court on Tuesday.

        Netanyahu also pointed out that Kadima originally supported the anti-boycott measure.

        “You initiated the bill. Central members of Kadima – the faction chairwoman supported the law, and so did MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila and [former MK] Tzachi Hanegbi. Why did Kadima MKs that originally supported the bill decide to oppose the final draft?” Netanyahu asked. “Because there was pressure, and you gave in to that pressure.”

        The prime minister added: “If you don’t like the bill, there’s an easy way to deal with it – argue, convince, act, pull together a majority in the Knesset – that’s the democratic way. You don’t choose to respect laws you like and not respect laws you don’t like.”

        “A law can be appealed in the High Court, and we respect the High Court. We will respect and defend the High Court,” Netanyahu said. (www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.asps?id=229252)

        Personally speaking I find it a little weird that I am arguing a case for a right wing government here, but hey, you know what right wing does not always mean wrong, and in this instance the are right.

  2. Shirl In Oz says:

    This should be of interest…courtesy of Eli E. Hertz of “Myths and facts”

    The Antiboycott laws under the U.S. Export Administration Act of 1979 [as amended in August 1999] were written specifically to protect Israel from the Arab League and other Moslem countries.

    On Monday, July 11, 2011 the Knesset [the Israeli Parliament] passed an Antiboycott law against those who promote and call to boycott Israel.

    Israel’s Attorney-General claims that the Israeli boycott laws’ border on unconstitutionality. A look at the U.S. Antiboycott laws objectives, should be helpful in defending the Israeli law.

    “The [U.S.] Antiboycott 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.”

    The U.S. Laws Prohibits among others:

    “Agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.

    “Agreements to discriminate or actual discrimination against other persons based on race, religion, sex, national origin or nationality.

    “Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about business relationships with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.

    “Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about the race, religion, sex, or national origin of another person.”

    Acting against the U.S. laws is considered a criminal behavior and carry with it penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years imprisonment per violation.

    For the entire U.S. Antiboycott Compliance text see: http://www.bis.doc.gov/complianceandenforcement/antiboycottcompliance.htm#boycottlaws

    http://law.justia.com/cfr/title48/48-4.0.4.34.40.2.1.10.html

  3. Jonathan Hoffman says:

    Dear Joel

    I wonder if you are aware that the anti-boycott law passed by the Knesset makes a boycott move a civil offence and not a criminal one. It does not make boycott attempts illegal so does not “cut down on the people’s right to protest”. It simply brings the private cost to the boycotter closer to the public cost of his/her boycott – good economics in other words. It says to the would–be boycotter “you are free to boycott but your action may no longer be costless to you.” What’s wrong with that Joel?

    As for “helping their campaign to portray Israel as a totalitarian state” – as you well know the Israel-haters will do this regardless of reality. They want nothing less than the extinction of Israel as a Jewish state – if you don’t believe me come to the Ahava counter-demo on Saturday and listen to them chant “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free”. Or look at the PSC’s logo. If you think that withdrawal from the settlements will satisfy the haters I assure you it won’t – what credit do they give Israel for withdrawing from Gaza?

    If you don’t like my IRA analogy then look at the US anti-boycott laws cited above by “Shirl”. In 1977, the United States Congress passed laws making it illegal for US companies and individuals to cooperate with the Arab boycott against Israel and authorising the imposition of not only civil but also criminal penalties against U.S. violators.

    Do keep making Israel’s case Joel but be really careful not to ‘follow the herd’ of the bleeding heart average communal UK leftist who does not think or get his/her facts right before s/he reacts.

    Kind regards
    Jonathan

    • Joe Millis says:

      Always with the straw man arguments, Jonathan. No one said it was a criminal offence.
      Boycott settlement goods. Make Israel a decent Zionist country again.

      • Advis3r says:

        As usual (see JC Website) a nonsensical/hysterical response from JM as if bringing pressure on the Jews living in Judea and Samaria is actually going to bring peace with Hamas – you have to be kidding.

    • Joel says:

      “What’s wrong with that, Joel?” – What’s wrong with it is that, sure, it’s great that people have to pay a fine and won’t go to prison; but do you realise what you’re saying? Your (totally skewed) idea of “good economics” means that protesting is now an activity only for those who can afford it. I didn’t realise the right to freedom of speech was reserved only for the rich. I don’t know about you but in my country that’s a right I would expect should be afforded to every citizen.

      “As you well know the Israel-haters will [portray Israel as a totalitarian state] regardless of reality,” you say. Well of course they will. But perhaps it’s time to look at the wider picture. Those who are most important in this debate are not the Israel-haters (although you are of course giving them more ‘reality’ on which to base their hate if you support this law) but in fact those in the middle, the people who don’t necessarily have an opinion but can easily be swayed either side. Those people now have a true reason to believe the Israel-haters when they say that Israel is a totalitarian State. And the thing we should be fearing most is having the masses – those middle ground-ers – rising up against us, joining in the boycotts, with little desire to listen to anything we say, since we ourselves are the ones eroding away at our most often-used fallback that “at least in the vibrant democracy of the State of Israel, everyone has the right to free speech”.

      And lastly, thank you for raising to my attention the US laws – I was unaware of them. However, I can’t say about the US that I’ve been fighting to defend its integrity as a democratic, lawful and fair country all my life like I have for Israel. I’m not an American citizen but I am an Israeli one, and when the State takes away one of my fundamental rights – one that I had absolutely no intention of using until now – I will fight for it, because I believe in the State of Israel, and I believe that it simply can do better than that.

  4. Tosca says:

    It is disconcerting that there are Israel supporters who are unsure as to the morality and wisdom of the Knesset in instituting this mild and overdue measure.
    It was the boycott of Jewish businesses in Nazi Germany that signalled the beginning of the end for Europe’s Jews.
    The boycott, this latest tool of de-legitmisation, has the power to undermine Israel from within, and is intended to do so.
    The exploitation by Israel’s left of Israel’s liberal and democratic laws and institutions in order to curtail and inhibit the freedoms of others of different persuasions, should be clearly understood for what it is, and dealt with appropriately.
    The move by the Knesset is indisputably correct.
    Israel is at war, albeit an unconventional one.

  5. jim says:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4094600,00.html

    New law protects democracy

    Op-ed: The only undemocratic aspect of Boycott Law is opposition’s attempt to thwart it
    Yariv Levin

  6. Tosca says:

    I haven’t heard of Joel Weiner before, but what really disgusts me are the posturings of those who wish to exhibit their “humanitarian” credentials at the expense of the lives and well-being of others.

  7. Tosca says:

    Joe Millis.

    “Boycott settlement goods. Make Israel a decent Zionist country again.”

    That comment is based on gross historical and legal ignorance, which is all too prevalent.

    The legal status of the so-called West Bank is identical to that of Israel behind the Green line, in international law.
    It’s legal status was enshrined in international law at the San Remo on April 25th. 1920, and is the same basis for the legality of Syria, lebanon and Iraq.
    As far as the Arabs are concerned, all of Israel is settlement land, and they openly tout that view.
    It is only nation states who believe it is in their “interests” to woo the Muslim nations, that propogate the lie of illegality.
    Others, such as yourself, are simply “useful idiots”.

    I suggest you consult Howard Grief’s treatise on Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel in his book “The legal foundation and borders of Israel under international law” before you sound off again.
    There is a summarised version of the book.

    • Joel says:

      I don’t necessarily agree with Joe Millis either, but with regards to your comments above (aimed at me) – I believe that the ‘useful idiots’ are the ones who, in the name of supporting Israel, get so carried away with rolling off the official Government line, that they can’t recognise the difference between what’s protecting us and what’s harming us by taking the concept of the rule of law to the extreme.

      • Just a Thought says:

        You should spend less time and words abusing those who disagree with you (“useful idiots”) and more time trying to convince Israelis that they should let you govern them rather than governing themselves.

        Boycotts are a form of war. Most countries would take strong criminal action against citizens giving aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of war. The Israeli action against its internal traitors is not only long overdue, it should be stronger.

        • Joel says:

          Please note that the phrase “useful idiots” was originally put in quotation marks because I was quoting Tosca. They are not my words, and I have no intention of “abusing” the good readers of this website; I only wish to share my thoughts.

          And I’m not sure if you were trying to be ironical when talking about “trying to convince Israelis that they should let you govern them rather than governing themselves”. I have lived in the UK most of my life but I have always been Israeli, and this summer, with God’s help, I am moving there – making Israel my permanent home.

  8. Jonathan Hoffman says:

    “Your (totally skewed) idea of “good economics” means that protesting is now an activity only for those who can afford it.”

    You are bringing income distribution into the debate but it is irrelevant. Israelis are free to protest but if their protest does economic damage then they must pay for it. If they simply stand in the street and wave a flag that is free. It simply brings the price of demonstrating into like with the cost imposed. Great economics and perfectly moral.

    JER POST TODAY:

    Does the new anti-boycott law harm free speech?
    By EUGENE KONTOROVICH
    17/07/2011

    Today’s champions of free speech are yesterday’s censors.

    Israel’s parliament passed a law this week prohibiting economic boycotts against this nation. Since before the creation of the Jewish state, boycotts have been a major part of the Arabs’ war against any Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Today, economic boycotts have become one of the main tools for delegitimizing, intimidating, undermining and unfairly singling out Israel.

    Israel’s new anti-boycott law immediately met with complaints that it violates free speech and is inconsistent with democratic values. Critics say the law itself will delegitimize Israel and alienate its supporters in Western democracies.

    Indeed, the US State Department and the European Union took the occasion to remind Jerusalem about the importance of free expression.

    These criticisms are wrong as a matter of principle. More insidiously, they hold Israel to a standard never applied to other nations, and criticizes it for passing laws that are well within the western democratic mainstream. Moreover, the outrage over the anti-boycott law carries a dose of hypocrisy, as it ignores numerous other laws in Israel that are used to restrict political speech generally associated with the right wing.

    There is no universal code of free speech. Determining what gets protection involves trade-offs between the very real harm that speech can cause and the benefit of free expression. Among liberal Western democracies, how that balance is struck varies significantly, depending on legal traditions and circumstances.

    The United States has far more robust constitutional speech protections than almost any Western country.

    Most European nations – and Israel – have numerous laws criminalizing speech that would not conceivably pass muster under the First Amendment. This does not mean these countries deny freedom of speech; merely that there are competing ideas.

    But even the US has a law against boycotting Israel. It has been on the books for decades, and has been regularly enforced, but no one has suggested it is unconstitutional – and that is for a law protecting another country’s economy. Moreover, Israel’s law, unlike the American one, applies only to organizing boycotts, not to actually adhering to one.

    In any country, guarantees of free speech do not apply to speech that causes actual harm, – like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. Some countries take this quite far. Great Britain has strong libel laws that prevent people from truthfully condemning public officials. While the law is widely criticized, no one has suggested Britain has thereby lost its democratic status. Critics of Israel’s anti-boycott law denounce it as fascist. In Europe, calling others fascist has gotten prominent politicians prosecuted – prosecutions that have not provoked lectures on free speech from the EU or America’s State Department.

    EVERY NATION has laws against conspiracies to cause economic harm: antitrust laws prohibit speech when its purpose is to unfairly cause economic harm. And the common law makes it a tort to “interfere with prospective business advantage,” i.e. scaring off someone’s customers.

    The anti-boycott law prohibits speech intended to cause economic harm to businesses solely because of their national identity. Nondiscrimination laws commonly ban plans to deny business to specified groups of certain national or ethnic origins.

    Israel’s new law bans discrimination against businesses because they are Israeli.

    Most European states – and Israel – have laws prohibiting speech that is perceived as “hateful” or which simply offends the feelings of particular groups. Often such speech expresses important viewpoints.

    A boycott of Israel promotes hatred of Israel, and certainly offends the vast majority of Israelis. To be sure, boycott supporters argue that at least when it comes to settlers, such hatred is deserved, but that is always the opinion of those whose speech is blocked by such laws.

    The boycott movement is designed to imperil the State of Israel, and can actually do so. This danger outweighs the benefits of allowing such speech, especially since the law does not in any way limit advocating policies or viewpoints that such boycotts are supposed to promote. Indeed, the law has a characteristic crucial for free-speech scrutiny – it is “viewpoint neutral.”

    That is, it applies to boycotts of Israel whether organized by the left wing or the right wing.

    Like most European democracies, Israel’s constitutional protection of speech has long been narrower than America’s.

    One example is that speech restraints have long been used against right-wing groups. Just recently, a prominent right-wing activist has been prosecuted for “insulting a public official,” after denouncing those responsible for expelling Jewish families from Gaza in 2005. In recent weeks, police have arrested several rabbis for authoring or endorsing obscure treatises of religious law that discuss (allegedly too leniently) the permissibility of killing enemy civilians in wartime.

    Most saliently, the far-Right party of Rabbi Meir Kahane was kicked out of the Knesset because its views were deemed racist. Such actions manifestly constitute interference in political expression, and would clearly violate freespeech norms in the US, but that does not make them unconstitutional in Israel. Nor did these actions trigger alarm among the international community.

    Israel’s current practice is clearly well within the limits of an open democracy. Singling out Israel for laws that are identical to, or just as restrictive as, laws on the books in America and Europe manifests the very problem that exists with the boycotts themselves – the application of an entirely different set of standards to Israel than to the rest of the free world.

    Eugene Kontorovich is a professor of law at Northwestern University, where he teaches constitutional law, and has lectured at Israeli universities.

  9. Michal says:

    I sincerely recommend reading Emmanuel Navon’s excellent piece re the gold medal for hypocrisy, entitled “For me, not for thee”…:
    http://navonsblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/for-me-not-for-thee.html

  10. France Saltman says:

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic job!

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