Israeli MK: "anti-Boycott Law Threatens Democracy"
On the night of July 11 the Israeli parliament passed the controversial
anti-boycott law. The law was written in response to the mounting global
movement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (or BDS) against Israel
and profits from its settlements and industry in the occupied West Bank.
The Boycott movement began as a mass Palestinian civil society call, and
has been supported from the beginning by some Israelis. The new law
bans them from publicly calling for a boycott, classifying it a civil wrong. To
understand the politics behind the vote, The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky
spoke with Noam Sheizaf, a journalist with the +972 Magazine, and
caught up with MK Dov Khenin during a protest in Jerusalem. This week
anonymous activists announced a week of direct actions, known as Rage
Week. Also this week the Israeli parliament will decide whether to
investigate human rights groups who work against the occupation.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On the night of July 11, the Israeli Parliament passed the controversial anti-boycott law. The law was written in response to the mounting global movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (or BDS) against Israel and profits from its settlements and industry in the occupied West Bank. Recent successes of the BDS movement include two Italian grocery chains who now boycott Israeli products, the French company Veolia reportedly losing billions of dollars worth of contracts over its involvement in the light rail project in occupied East Jerusalem, the University of Johannesburg severing its ties with the Israeli Ben-Gurion University, and the German company Deutsche Bank withdrawing from an upcoming project to build a fast rail between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The boycott movement has also received sweeping support from trade unions throughout the world, artists, musicians, and politicians. And as a result, at least 21 percent of Israeli companies reported damages related to the boycott. The version of the law that passed allows a person or a company that believes it sustained economic damages to sue Israeli citizens who publicly call for a boycott without even having to prove the damages. The law also states that a company that refuses to operate in the occupied West Bank will be barred from participating in government tenders. As the Israeli financial paper The Marker writes, as a result of this clause, "The concern is that international companies will choose not to invest in Israel at all." Many in government, including from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, opposed the law.
DOV KHENIN, ISRAELI PARLIAMENT MEMBER, HADASH PARTY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is an abuse of the power of the majority in Parliament to trample on people like the activists of Gush Shalom. In the future they may also trample on your boycott of non-Kosher products, MK Nisim Ze’ev. When there are no boundaries to the powers of the majority, the minority has no rights. And when the minority has no rights, there’s no democracy.
TARACHANSKY: The movement began as a mass Palestinian civil society call and has been supported from the beginning by some Israelis.
RONNIE BARKAN, ISRAELI ACTIVIST, BOYCOTT FROM WITHIN: My name is Ronnie. I live in Tel Aviv. I am an Israeli activist, both with the Palestinian popular struggle as well as with the international campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The perception of Israel is changing in the recent decade. Basically, what we do is in July 2004 there was the landmark decision in the International Court of Justice regarding the legality of the settlements and the occupied territories and the wall. Exactly one year later, in July 2005, came the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The general security service treats this as a security threat, and they’re monitoring me. We–I mean, not only myself; they’re monitoring those who speak for democracy or against the Jewish character of the state. They said this in court. They said this on the WikiLeaks document, the documents that have just been published. And what they’re doing apart from that is actually trying in many ways to criminalize, or at least to suppress as much as possible, this type of debate. And this is the debate that we should be having, actually.
TARACHANSKY: Israeli organizations from the traditional left, such as Peace Now, and the emerging left, such as Solidarity Jerusalem and the Anarchists Against the Wall, came out against the law as well, vowing to continue to support the boycott. The vote, which passed with 47 for to 38 votes against, was opposed by the speaker of the Parliament and was presented as a partisan fight between the ruling right coalition and the opposition. The religious parties all supported the bill, while Kadima, in one of its first major political moves since becoming the leader of the opposition three years ago, voted against. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who recently split from the decaying HaAvoda Party by creating Ha’Atzma’ut, spoke out against the law, but his party abstained.
EHUD BARAK, MINISTER OF DEFENSE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We greatly dislike the boycott law. It will be brought to the Supreme Court, and I am sure we will all respect the Court’s decision.
TARACHANSKY: Barak’s party wasn’t the only one to avoid voting. In fact, most of the leading ministers and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to skip it altogether. The Real News spoke with Noam Sheizaf, a journalist with 972+ Magazine and a former editor at the Israeli daily Maariv.
NOAM SHEIZAF, JOURNALIST, 972+ MAGAZINE: This law was considered mandatory voting by the government and the opposition alike. That means that everyone who’s part of the coalition, everyone who’s a member in a party which is part of the coalition, had to vote in favor of the law, or, if he wishes to and really insists on opposing it, he could have avoided the law altogether. But nobody could have opposed; otherwise, he would be punished by his political party. And this is what happened.
TARACHANSKY: And why do you think that the prime minister, who clearly came out on Wednesday saying that he supports the law, why do you think he didn’t show up?
SHEIZAF: Well, first of all, those who didn’t show up, among them were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and several other [incompr.] ministers. So you would say that the actual political leadership of the government, for the most part, avoided the bill, though it is important to say that if it was necessary for them to vote in order to have the bill passed, they would have showed up. It was–once it was established that the bill would pass in any case, it was more comfortable for them not to appear as supporting it. My guess is that Netanyahu didn’t want to be seen as endorsing the law, but after the criticism that he suffered for not showing leadership for either side, those for the law and those against it, he made a public statement in the Knesset saying that he supported the bill.
TARACHANSKY: Two days after the vote, and after being summoned by an order of 40 Parliament members, Netanyahu finally spoke before Parliament. Rather than address why he and the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, decided to skip the vote, the prime minister reminded Parliament that he was busy extending daylight savings time, approving a plan to clean up the Kishon River, and saving a library from closing in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. He then questioned the Kadima Party on why it decided to vote against the law, when it supported its tougher, original version. On Saturday night, anonymous activists called for a meeting in the central park in Tel Aviv. They announced they will begin a week of direct actions, known as Rage Week, against the passed legislation, the occupation, and the growing economic disparity in Israel. MK Dov Khenin’s assistant Alon-Lee Green spoke at the gathering.
ALON-LEE GREEN, ASSISTANT TO DOV KHENIN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I am very angry. I’m here because I’ve gone through a very tough week on a personal level. I was one of the people who fought against the boycott law. This law hurts me, my freedom of speech and ability to live in this country as a free citizen. I’m angry because I work, I live in Tel Aviv and I can’t make ends meet. I’m angry because I work and I don’t know if I’ll have money to study. I think we all have different reasons for anger that connect us together as residents in this city, and there are many others like us in other cities, and there are many, many, many struggles.
TARACHANSKY: During this spontaneous march, demonstrators threw cottage cheese at one of the military museums, because in recent weeks cottage cheese has been boycotted inside Israel as a popular protest against the rising commodity prices.
GREEN: We want justice, not charity!
TARACHANSKY: On Saturday, thousands marched in Jerusalem in a joint Israeli-Palestinian demonstration for the two-state solution. In a unique editorial, the leading Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, called for Israelis to join the demo, saying this Jerusalem march has special importance because of its timing. When the Knesset is legislating more and more laws aimed at restricting the right to protest, this march will be an important challenge to them.
KHENIN (ENGLISH): Occupation and democracy cannot live together. We have to choose. Either we have democracy in Israel or we shall continue with the occupation. I came here to demonstrate for the independence of Palestine, but also for the democracy of Israel.
TARACHANSKY: Many used the demonstration to publicly declare that despite the law, they will continue to support the boycott, which is seen as one of the only effective nonviolent measures against the Israeli occupation.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I want to hear everyone make noise. Who’s going to boycott the settlements? Louder! Who’s going to boycott settlements?
TARACHANSKY: This week, the Parliament will decide whether to investigate the funding sources of human rights organizations that work against the occupation.
End of Transcript
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