38. We will not be silent

Israel’s supporters frequently refer to it as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

The latest in a series of large nails was hammered into this myth recently by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset: the ‘Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott – 2011.′

Ironically, the law confirms exactly why its target, the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, continues to grow.  At the same time, the law is a measure of how much impact the movement is beginning to have.

An Israeli organization, the Coalition of Women for Peace [several members’ life stories are featured in Our Way to Fight] issued this statement:

“The law seriously harms freedom of expression and freedom of association, and is expected to protect the illegal West Bank settlements in Israeli law, by penalizing their opponents.  [MR: Other Israeli commentators point out that in treating the settlements as a single entity within Israel, despite the fact that they are built on Palestinian land, the new law implicitly annexes them for the first time as Israeli territory, directly defying international law, under which settlements on occupied land are illegal.]

“Hours before the vote, Eyal Yanon, the legal advisor of the Knesset, released a legal opinion criticizing the law as “bordering illegality and perhaps beyond”.  He stated the the law clearly violates freedom of expression in Israel.  This argument apparently was not convincing for the 47 MKs [members of the Knesset] who voted for the bill, compared to 38 who objected.

“The ‘Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott – 2011′ prohibits the public promotion of boycott by Israeli citizens and organisations, and, in some cases, agreement to participate in a boycott.  It forbids not only a boycott of Israeli institutions but also of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It will enable settlers or other parties targeted by boycotts to sue anyone who calls for boycott, and the court may award compensation including punitive damages, even if no actual damage is caused to the boycotted parties.

“The law will revoke tax exemptions and other legal rights from Israeli activists, organisations and institutions if they “engage in boycott”.  This means that peace and human rights organisations “engaged in boycott” will not be able to receive funding from the EU and other public institutions.

“Israeli businesses and industries will also be penalised by the law, if they work with the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian companies and accept their conditions that exclude trade with businesses that also trade with settlements.

“In Israel, as well as in the rest of the world there is extensive use of boycott as a means to achieving social and consumer ends.  The new law is targeting only a very specific form of calls to boycott, of groups and movements of the opposition, who resist the occupation.  As such, this law tramples upon the civil rights of a political minority and has a “chilling effect” on civil society.

“In addition to extensive mobilization of civil society and international community in objection to this bill, it was met with harsh criticism from government offices, including the attorney general’s office who called it borderline unconstitutional.”

Along with the Coalition of Women for Peace, other Israelis are taking action against the new law, among other things filing a suit in the Supreme Court to find the law illegal.

Boycott!, one of the groups most directly threatened by the law, published a statement in which members of the group deliberately risk prosecution by continuing to promote BDS.  The statement has already been signed by an impressive roster of principled Israelis, among them several people whose life stories are featured in Our Way to Fight.  The statement opens:

“We, Israeli citizens, members of Boycott!, hereby reiterate our support and promotion of the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.  We declare this in spite of the new legislation by the Israeli Knesset, which aims to penalize our and our partners’ activities, curbing freedom of speech and political organizing and most importantly – banning Israeli citizens from acting according to their conscience when it conflicts with the deplorable policies of the state….”

Read the whole statement here.

Despite the new law, and other repressive measures by the Israel regime and its backers, the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions will continue to grow.  It remains one of the few practical, non-violent methods by which people around the world can work for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.

Check for BDS news, resources and connections here.

About Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.
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