David Newman

Criminalising boycott backers will backfire

April 26, 2015 17:01

The Israeli High Court will not overrule the Knesset's decision that makes it a crime for Israeli citizens or NGOs to support a boycott or any divestment and sanctions-related activities.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel had argued that such a law was a denial of free speech and that this was no better than the pro-boycott groups' attempt to discriminate against and silence pro-Israel voices.

Whether or not the High Court should have intervened in what was a political decision is open to debate in a country where too many political decisions become the subject of appeals to the judicial system.

But the Knesset should never have passed the law in the first place, bringing Israel to a point where even those who support the country are now questioning the government's adherence to free speech and open debate.

This law had little to do with actually countering BDS and pro-boycott sentiments uttered both inside and outside Israel.

The law is an attempt to promote a radical right wing agenda and silence opponents

It had everything to do with the right-wing pressure which has been exerted, and will no doubt continue to be exerted under the new government, on those who are in any way critical of Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the West Bank.

The strategy, which has been adopted over the past 18 months, has very little to do with the desire to promote academic freedom and diversity.

We used to call this free speech but, under the right-wing Knesset, free speech is only something you can enjoy if you are uncritical of the government.

Today, there is no more lucrative industry than the anti-BDS industry, with right-wing NGOs enjoying an almost unlimited flow of both government and foreign (mostly from the USA) resources to fight the good fight.

Unlike the pro-peace and pro-human rights NGOs, which right-wingers are trying to silence and shut down, these organisations portray themselves as patriots, the only Zionists left in the world defending the good against the world of anti-Israel evil.

The law offers no suggestions as to how to properly engage those who promote BDS and academic boycotts. There is no thought given to how scientific co-operation between Israel and the rest of the world should be encouraged and strengthened as the correct response to the pro-boycott groups.

There has been minimal impact on Israel's scientific standing and its healthy collaboration with the rest of the world.

Boycotts are now increasingly aimed at Israeli activities beyond the Green Line in the West Bank.

It is hard to interpret the law in any other way than an attempt to promote a radical right-wing agenda and to silence the voices of those who think differently - ultimately causing the exact opposite effect.

Those who have believed in the freedom of speech in Israel until today will now start to have second thoughts.

Boycotts have to be combated. They are discriminatory, unethical and rarely achieve the aims they set out to achieve. They single out Israel while sparing the many other countries with much worse human-rights records. But two wrongs do not make a right.

April 26, 2015 17:01

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