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Israel Passes Sweeping Anti-Boycott Law, Making a Form of Nonviolent Activism Illegal

Israel has passed a law outlawing citizens from advocating for boycotts against any Israeli person or entity. The law is drawing criticism as an attack on freedom of speech.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Israel has passed a new law outlawing citizens and organizations from advocating for boycotts against any Israeli person or entity. The law is drawing criticism from around the world as an attack on freedom of speech. Under the new law, any person, including journalists, calling for the boycott or divestment of Israel or the occupied West Bank can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they sustained damage. Israeli legislator Avraham Michaeli supported the law, saying that any call for a boycott is an act of "tortuous malice."

AVRAHAM MICHAELI: [translated] Boycotts are liable to harm business, cultural and academic activities of those subject to the boycotts, and inflict heavy damage, both financial and repetitional on them. In order to prevent such damage, it is proposed that knowingly publishing a call for any sort of boycott on anyone because of their links to state of Israel will be considered an act of tortuous malice subject to tort regulations.

AMY GOODMAN: But dozens of Israeli lawmakers voted against the measure, including Nitzan Horowitz. Horowitz said, "We are dealing with a legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here."

Prominent Israeli columnist Ben Caspit, who opposes boycotts, denounced the new legislation, writing, "This is a blatant and a resounding shutting of people’s mouths. This is a thought police. There is no choice but to use this word. Fascism at its worst is raging," he wrote.

The Jewish daily newspaper, The Forward, issued an editorial claiming "a boycott can be a legitimate use of non-violent protest to achieve a worthy goal." The editors of the paper then drew a line through the sentence, along with several others, to illustrate the type of reasonable thoughts that will be punishable under the new law.

JUAN GONZALEZ: For more, we’re joined by Gal Beckerman, who is the opinion editor at The Forward and the author of When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

GAL BECKERMAN: Thanks for having me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the discussion at the paper before the editorial that you put out?

GAL BECKERMAN: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, we really wanted to try to illustrate how absurd, in a way, this law was, because in some ways it was making illegal, verging on criminal, things that reasonable people, people who are, you know, quote-unquote, "pro-Israel" have been saying for a long time, in fact, you know, by some statistics, a majority of Israelis have been saying, which is that getting—ending the occupation might be a good thing for Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for The Forward? I mean, it wasn’t just symbolic, what you were doing—


AMY GOODMAN: —putting the lines through the words. What exactly does this anti-boycott law mean for people who are writing, for people who are speaking, for people who believe and don’t believe in boycotting Israel?

GAL BECKERMAN: Well, one of the more disturbing things about this law is its vagueness, because it really kind of creates a situation in which, if you are seen to be even hypothetically suggesting that a boycott might be something that could be a legitimate form of a nonviolent protest, that could, under this law, be construed as somehow violating the rights, the civil rights, of, say, a settlement, a settlement that’s producing oranges, you know, who says that they would be hypothetically damaged by a boycott, hypothetically economically damaged, and then you could be sued in civil court. So, the vagueness of it is partly what is so problematic.

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