OK

While writing an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post (where I periodically contribute, adding a progressive voice to a conservative paper), I just realized this: I have been muzzled.

See, with passage of Israel's anti-boycott law, an anti-democratic measure that curbs free speech and has prompted many prominent Israelis to invoke the word fascism, the op-ed I was writing about the value of boycotts as a form of nonviolent protest, if published, could possibly open me up to being sued, and would certainly put the paper at risk.

I suddenly realized this after reading the latest editorial in The Forward, entitled "We Can't Say This." After explaining that, while the paper's freedom of expression is protected in New York by the First Amendment, it is no longer protected fully in Israel, where its work is also republished in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

This from the editorial:

So, for example, if we say something like: We can understand why reasonable people could advocate a boycott of products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank because those settlements are deemed illegal under international law and because a boycott is a peaceful way of expressing a moral concern — well, if we say something like that, we could be sued and held liable in civil court. And that court could award financial recompense to the plaintiff not according to actual damage done to his income if, for instance, we suggested that people refrain from buying his oranges or his facial cream, but according to what he thinks he might lose in the future.

Unpack this for a moment. We didn’t boycott, we just expressed sympathy in a way that could be seen as advocacy without taking the leap from speech to action. We didn’t target a product manufactured in Tel Aviv or Hadera or within the undisputed borders of Israel, or in any way seek to delegitimize the state. We surely didn’t advocate violence or express a destructive opinion about Israel or its government and leaders.

And The Forward is being joined by a chorus of unexpected Jewish American journalists who are getting testy...

An unexpected voice, that of Jeffrey Goldberg, has suddenly joined the fray with an intentionally provocative piece called, "Maybe It's Time for American Jews to Boycott Netanyahu." Goldberg, a centrist voice on Israel in America, writes:

The anti-boycott law, which would allow people who claim to have been financially victimized by calls for boycotts to sue those who call for such boycotts, without offering proof of damages, is obviously meant to intimidate into silence Israelis exercising their right to speak freely. I am against, of course, all calls for boycotts against Israel; I'm on the fence about calls for boycotts of settlement-made goods. But let the opponents of boycotts make their best arguments against such boycotts -- it has always been the Israeli way to fight bad ideas with better ideas. This new law is an entirely new thing -- a bullying example of the tyranny of the majority in action. I'm confident the Israeli Supreme Court will overturn this dreadful law, but until it does, might I suggest a counter-boycott, by American Jews, of Israeli politicians, up to and including the prime minister, who support the curtailing of free speech in Israel?

Those are strong words coming from Goldberg.

Though the strongest, perhaps, are coming from Israel itself, where journalists are enraged by the anti-boycott law, and are using very difficult language (including intoning the word fascism) in shouting it down.

However, this critique from Mairav Zonszein is perhaps the most stinging, and unfortunately, hits hardest at the true nature of Israel's new anti-boycott law, which forbids citizens from boycotting anything coming from the settlements as well as Israel proper. She writes (emphasis hers):

Everyone who is up in arms about the passing of the boycott law this week has been emphasizing the severity of its violation of freedom of expression and dialogue. While this is of course true, what is even more alarming about the law, which has gone largely unmentioned in the press or by organizations opposing it, is what it says about the State’s relation to the territory under its control: The boycott law makes no distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories and thus is in effect a legalization and normalization of the occupation, the total erasure of the Green Line and the moratorium on the two-state solution (in case this was not already clear).

And it's true, to an extent. Not only is this new law an impingement on free speech, but, more importantly perhaps, it normalizes a lack of distinction between settlements in the West Bank and Israel proper. Meaning: you cannot boycott anything coming out of Israel, nor out of the settlements in the West Bank, because they are the same.

And given this fact, if I were to pen an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post that, perhaps, the only proper act of civil disobedience in opposition to this new law would be to, in fact, boycott products from the settlements, well – I can't, for the paper wouldn't publish it without fear of being sued.

Author's Note: Thanks to fizziks, who pointed out that Jeffrey Goldberg has added an update to his Atlantic piece after receiving a ridiculous amount of emails in response to his post. Here it is:

UPDATE: Good God, my inbox is filled up with stupid shit today. The stupid shit is coming in two categories: Israel-haters, welcoming me to their deranged club, and Israel-right-or-wrongers, accusing me of treason. To the Israel-haters: Criticism of a specific Israeli policy or law does not make me an Israel-hater. Sorry. One letter states, "So you're finally seeing that Israel is an apartheid state." Well, no. What I see is an Israeli prime minister not brave enough to stand up to a revanchist minority within his own party. Because I love Israel, I would like to see Netanyahu come out against laws that punish free speech. Here's another letter: "So you endorse a boycott of Netanyahu. That means you find boycotts legitimate." Okay, that one I can't even respond to, it's so dumb. Okay, here I go, responding anyway: I'm trying to make the point that it is vital for pro-Israel American Jews who care about free speech (the heavily-Jewish First Amendment bar comes to mind) to let Prime Minister Netanyahu he's wrong, why he's wrong, the consequences of being wrong, and how to fix the wrong he's done. That's all. But yes, I do think it would be odd and unseemly for a lawyers' division of a Jewish federation to honor him at this moment, given what seem to be his evolving views on free speech. It would be great if he would come to New York and meet some free-speech advocates in the pro-Israel community, so that they can give him a piece of their mind. Of course, he could do this in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

To the knee-jerk defenders of every single Likud Party policy, right or wrong: Keep on blinding yourselves. You obviously enjoy the dark. And to the person who wrote this: "Come on, you must know that Israel doesn't have a First Amendment or a Constitution that guarantees free speech," all I can say is this: Since 1948, Israel has been a besieged state that nevertheless has, with rare exceptions, defended the right of people to say whatever they have wanted to say. This is why Israel has the freest press in the world, and why Arab members of Knesset can scream down the prime minister and not get shot. Israel's defense of freedom of speech, even in wartime, is one of the many reasons to be proud of it. Let's not go spoiling this record now.  

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