Former Israeli ambassador calls for legislation to impose ‘penalties’ on promoters of academic boycott

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. (Photo: USC Public Diplomacy/Flickr)

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. (Photo: USC Public Diplomacy/Flickr)

The backlash against the American Studies Association (ASA) for endorsing an academic boycott of Israel has come in fast and hard, with opprobrium pouring in from high-level Israeli officials.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who recently stepped down from his post, is the latest to attack the ASA.  This morning, he wrote on his Facebook page:

Much outrage has been expressed about the academic boycott of Israel by the ASA–that it singles out the world’s only Jewish state, the Middle East’s only democracy, undermines academic freedom, and defies Abu Mazen’s opposition to such boycotts. More needs to be said about fighting back. The United States has long imposed strict penalties on companies complying with the Arab boycott of Israel. Similar measures should be enacted denying state and Federal funding for any activities associated with the promoters of this racist anti-democratic measure.

Oren is referring to decades-old laws that impose penalties on companies who adhere to foreign government-sponsored boycotts.  While the American provision was written broadly, the law was meant to discourage companies from adhering to the Arab League boycott of Israel.  First enacted after 1948, the Arab League boycott has little bite today due to peace treaties Israel signed with Jordan and Egypt and a general disregard among Arab governments for enforcing the state boycott.

Zionist groups like Shurat HaDin, which has links to the Israeli government and Mossad, have pointed to such laws on boycotts to threaten legal action against BDS advocates. But since the BDS movement is a response to civil society, and not governments, advocating for boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel does not run afoul of the law.

Oren’s reaction was published after the new Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, also harshly criticized the academic boycott of Israel.  “The singling out of the Jewish state for boycott is no different than the many attempts throughout history to single out Jews and hold them to a different standard,” Dermer wrote on his Facebook page.

The Israeli government has become heavily involved in efforts to counter the BDS movement.  In 2010, the Israel Action Network, the Jewish establishment’s main vehicle for combatting the movement, was formed at the urging of the Israeli government. Earlier this year, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met with a group of “Jewish millionaires” to enlist their help in pushing back against BDS.

Israeli legislators have also taken up measures to impose penalties on those advocating for boycotts from within the country.  In 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law stipulating that anyone calling for a boycott of Israel could be sued in court by a party who may be damaged by such a statement.  The measure was frozen by the Supreme Court in 2012 while justices hear challenges to it.

And earlier this week, an Israeli committee passed a law that would heavily tax organizations funded by overseas donors who call for a boycott of Israel. The law was blasted as “unconstitutional” by the Attorney General.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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