In 2011, the Knesset passed a law banning calls for boycotts of Israel. The law read in part:
In this bill, "a boycott against the State of Israel" is defined as: deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or body solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.
During the debate:
MK Nitzan Horowitz from Meretz blasted the law, calling it outrageous and shameful. "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," he said. Ilan Gilon, another Meretz MK, said the law would further delegitimize Israel.
Before the vote, the Knesset's legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yanon, published a legal assessment saying parts of the law edge towards "illegality and perhaps beyond." He went on to warn that the law "damages the core of freedom of expression in Israel." Yanon's assessment contradicts that of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who said the bill is legal.
Human rights groups filed lawsuits against the law almost immediately and in December 2012, Israel's High Courty granted a stay. Earlier today, it issued it's final ruling striking down some portions of the law unanimously and letting others stand in 8-1 and 5-4 split decisions. This is a very significant ruling with long-range impact on free-speech in Israel. I'm going to do a round-up of coverage from a variety of news sources.
+972mag: High Court upholds controversial 'boycott law'
The High Court rejected a petition by human rights organizations, upholding the controversial “boycott law” on Wednesday. The law give grounds for individuals to sue anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel, or areas under its control.
The court struck down only one section of the law, which establishes that one may seek punitive damages for a deliberate call to boycott without needing to prove actual damages. It appears that one will now need to show actual damages in order to win a lawsuit.
Justice Hanan Meltzer, who wrote the majority opinion, ruled that a call to boycott is not consistent with the true purpose of freedom of expression, and therefore is not protected speech. He went on to describe boycott calls as “political terrorism,” adding that the state has a right to defend itself from them.
Nearly four years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed the Law to Prevent Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott, which rights groups challenged in court almost immediately. (Read a translation of the law itself here.)
The law was a direct response to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. It enables anyone who feels they were (or might be) harmed by a boycott, “solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control (read: settlements in occupied territory, MSO), in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage,” to sue for both punitive and compensatory damages.
The Jewish Press (a US-based weekly with an orthodox readership) has a story: Supreme Court Judge Calls Anti-Israeli Boycotts ‘Political Terrorism’
NGOs opposing the bill were quoted by the website as having commented on the court’s unanimous ruling, “The boycott law is a law to silence legitimate criticism. The High Court ruling is a serious blow to freedom of expression and basic rights for political participation on a disputed topic.”
“Freedom of expression” is very a popular concept among those who exploit it to demonize Israel and try to turn it into an Arab country.
Haaretz also has coverage: High Court largely upholds controversial 'Anti-Boycott Law'
“Boycotts and encouraging divestment are recognized throughout the world as legitimate, nonviolent tools,” said the Women’s Coalition for Peace, which is one of the petitioners and had previously promoted boycotts and divestment. “In its decision today, the High Court is approving the silencing and restriction of legitimate protest aimed at criticizing and working to change Israeli policy.”
Melcer, Grunis and his successor, current Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, voted to uphold the Anti-Boycott Law, along with fellow justices Elyakim Rubinstein and Issac Amit. Justices Salim Joubran, Yoram Danziger, Uzi Vogelman and Neal Hendel made up the minority.
In his minority opinion, Danziger wrote that the law undermines free expression to an unreasonable extent.
“I believe that the call for a boycott is consistent with the purposes of free expression,” he wrote. “A boycott expresses disgust with the boycotted behavior. It displays a lack of desire to support and finance behaviors that the boycotter feels are unworthy… and in the Israeli political reality, calls for boycotts of the State of Israel are heard from only one side of the political map. … The law thus creates discrimination based on one’s position.”
Yedioth Ahronoth: Court tempers Boycott Law, rules out unlimited compensation
Israel Hayom (owned by Adelson): High Court: State may punish anti-Israel boycotters
Some four years after state passes anti-boycott law, justices rule that protecting the well-being of the state trumps the right to boycott and does not infringe on free speech. Law makes the call for the boycott of Israel a civil offense.
During the court hearings, the state said the bill would help safeguard Israel's stature on the world stage and protect its foreign relations.
The Jerusalem Post has a great in-depth article (more excerpts below fold): High Court upholds part of Anti-Boycott Law, strikes part and splits on '1967 Israel'
The Association of Civil Rights in Israel also slammed the ruling, while Gush Shalom’s lawyer Gabi Lasky said, “It cannot be that it is permitted to boycott cottage cheese within the Green Line because of its price, but according to the High Court it is prohibited to call for boycotting cottage cheese... in the settlements for political ideals.”
On the other side, Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said the verdict is “a clear proof that attempts to harm the State of Israel via boycotts are unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself not only from harm to its security, but also from economic harm.”
MK Danny Danon (Likud) said following the verdict that “the extreme Left is trying unsuccessfully to instill its post-Zionist values.
“Yesterday the High Court decided that terrorists can’t study in prison, and today it rejected the petition against the Boycott Law. Not only did the public speak out clearly against the Left’s petitions, the High Court Justices did, too,” he said.
At one point, new Justice Yitzhak Amit noted that “some say that BDS is anti-Semitism.”
And finally from Haaretz again:
Gaby Lasky, a lawyer who represented petitioner Gush Shalom in the case, also said the court was silencing the left.
“This is a regrettable decision with far-reaching ramifications; the High Court justices are changing Israeli constitutional law as we have known it to date and put the interests of perpetuating the settlement enterprise over all the state’s citizens’ basic right to freedom of expression,” said Lasky.
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