My new column is up at The American Prospect:
This article is against the law. To be more precise: It includes a call for boycotting the products of West Bank settlements, a call that will be illegal in Israel as soon as legislation just approved by the Knesset is published in the official gazette and takes effect. That’s normally a matter of a couple of days, perhaps a week.
The Prohibition on Instituting a Boycott Act was submitted by Zeev Elkin—a West Bank settler and Likud politician who chairs the ruling coalition in Israel’s parliament. On Monday night, the Knesset passed the Boycott Act on a straight party-line vote, with the 47 members of the coalition and a far-right opposition party voting in favor, and the 38 members of center and left-wing opposition parties voting against.
Under the law, publicly calling for an “economic, academic or cultural” boycott of “the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control” is a “civil tort.” That is, publicly organizing or even supporting a boycott is grounds for the boycott’s target to file a civil suit, and for a court to award punitive damages even if the plaintiff doesn’t prove actual financial harm. Promoting a boycott isn’t a criminal act, but it’s definitely an illegal one, and the Knesset has made civil lawsuits the method of punishment. (My thanks to leading Israeli legal commentator Moshe Negbi and to Georgetown University law professor David Luban for parsing the law.)
The phrase in the law referring to “an area under [Israel’s] control” is a very thinly-veiled reference to the West Bank. The phrase is there to outlaw boycotts of Israeli settlements in occupied territory. The legislation bans promoting a boycott of a specific settlement product—say, wine from ex-terrorist Menachem Livni’s vineyard near Hebron—or of everything produced in settlement farms and industry. If the Israeli actors who publicly refused last year to appear on the stage in the new theater in the settlement of Ariel stick to their position, they too may face legal action.
This is a pernicious law. The future of the West Bank and of the Israeli settlements in that territory is Israel’s single most important political issue. The Boycott Act attacks one form of free expression used by citizens to take a stand on that question. The act also attacks the right to organize, and the right of citizens to act as free agents economically. Defining the supposed offense as a civil tort does not soften the blow. Individual settlers, settlement organizations and local governments can file suit against opponents, keep them tied up in court for years, and punish them with legal costs even before a verdict. …
Read the rest at the American Prospect, and comment there or in South Jerusalem. Just be careful of what you say here. Someone might sue you.