Some Israelis don’t speak out in favor of boycott for fear of consequences

Israel/Palestine
on 9 Comments
Einat Weizman

Einat Weizman

The other day the New York Times ran an article on the boycott-Israel measure
passed by the American Studies Association that included three quotations from Israelis who criticized the American scholars.

What the Times failed to inform its readers that there is a law in Israel against advocating for boycott. Is it really so surprising that only critics of boycott spoke up?

And while no one has yet been punished by the law that we are aware of, it has had a chilling effect on free speech in Israel. American readers deserve to know as much.

Here are three reports we gathered:

Writes Ofer Neiman, a boycott advocate for Boycott from Within:

Israel’s High Court of (in)Justice (HCJ) is due to hear petitions against the boycott law soon. No lawsuit has been filed against Israeli citizens  based on the law, and as far as I know, the state has agreed to the court’s suggestion that the law would not come into effect before the hearing.

There are quite a few Israelis who are willing to speak out in favor of BDS. [For instance, Ynet, the biggest, most mainstream site in Israel, publishes op-eds by Udi Aloni, who is a prominent Israeli BDS activist]

As for a normal life, that depends. Some are not affected. Some are.  An entire class of students at a certain academic Institute boycotted my lessons. Some of them were bold enough to acknowledge that in the feedback survey…

Neiman directed us to the case of Israeli actor Einat Weizman, saying that some theaters in Israel will not employ Einat Weizman because she has endorsed boycott. We reached out to the actress, who told us of a leading theater that has singled her out. “In an interview to Israeli national radio in May, Cameri [theater] director Noam Semel chose to attack [Israeli] activists leading the fight against the occupation also by promoting a cultural [international] boycott of Israel, and ‘surprisingly’ chose to mention my name of all names, as well as my workplaces”.

Journalist Noam Sheizaf at +972 tells us that he’s aware of the chilling effect.

We don’t censor pieces on the issue, but we do feel the cooling effect of the new law, and we don’t feel we can freely express all views on this issue.”

And here is Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel, a regular writer on our site, writing in our comment section, and a later email exchange, that while the law awaits its first test case (and the state attorney has conceded that the law is “constitutionally problematic”), it has fed a climate of orthodoxy and shunning.

[James North asks Shmuel]: In other words, Israelis who support the academic boycott might bite their tongues to avoid the legal, time-consuming and financial consequences of speaking out? Do you know such people?

[Shmuel:] I think there are very few Israelis who support the academic boycott (as opposed to the settlement boycott, for example) in the first place, and those who do so are extremely committed and tend to take risks of all sorts. There was considerable apprehension when the law first passed, but the High Court freeze, the state attorney’s own doubts about the law and especially the fact that no suits have actually been brought – even against advocates of the settlement boycott – have allayed some of the fears. If there is a “successful” test case, that might very well change. It’s also hard to tell how the Israeli government will act if and when BDS gains any significant momentum.

For the moment, the only case of self-censorship that I know of is the decision of Gush Shalom to take down its list of settlement goods (a very useful resource for the settlement boycott)…

+972 did publish some sort of disclaimer to that effect [that it could not openly debate the issue].  The kind of “shunning” that Ofer refers to ([above] not directly related to the law) is, I think, a much greater concern.  Someone like Neve Gordon, for example, hasn’t had it easy, but he does have tenure.  It would probably be professional suicide for a non-tenured lecturer to openly support academic BDS.

Let’s go back to the NY Times’ coverage of boycott. Say that in 1980 the New York Times ran an article on human rights violations in the Soviet Union and quoted several apparatchiks saying things aren’t that bad. Can you imagine the outcry? And if the Times sought to defend itself by saying, Look, these are the Russians who would speak on record, human-rights advocates would point out, That’s because the critics are in jail, or afraid of going there.

Of course the Times would never have covered the Soviet Union that way.

Israel is not a totalitarian society, but marketing it as the only open democracy in the Middle East covers up significant intolerant trends there.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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9 Responses

  1. just
    December 21, 2013, 11:09 am

    It’s both heartening and disheartening to read this.

    How terrible that a “democracy” behaves this way. Chilling, in so very many ways. Does it smell more than a bit like fascism?

    • Citizen
      December 22, 2013, 4:52 pm

      NYT is a gross impediment to free speech on this subject in the USA, so it’s just being consistent.

  2. pabelmont
    December 21, 2013, 11:58 am

    Yes, Israeli “democracy” does suffer a bit when people are not allowed to say stuff. actually, they can SYA what theyw ant, not a criminal offense (usually), but then they can have their pants sued off for “advocating BDS”.

    I do wonder what would happen to an Israeli who said, “I elect not to advocate for boycott of any Israeli company or organization or person — but I can sure understand why some people would not wish to support * * * “.

    And now the USA is a target for BDS! Yes indeedily-dee. All the world is choosing BDS!

    Boeing has lost a huge contract in Brazil due to US spying. And USA tech companies are losing billions due to NSA spying.

  3. ritzl
    December 21, 2013, 5:30 pm

    Probably OT, but what does “constitutionally” mean when discussing Israel? As in (from the article):

    …and the state attorney has conceded that the law is “constitutionally problematic”…

    And it’s always striking how collaborative, perhaps even collusive, the Israeli High Court adjudication track is. From Dr. Neiman’s statement:

    …the state has agreed to the court’s suggestion that the law would not come into effect before the hearing.

    They seem to decide things as much on the basis of context and/or repercussions as principles and/or law. The Israeli High Court seems to be directly politically accountable, by design. It’s Israel’s style and right, but it’s still kinda strange from a US [admittedly lay] perspective. It’s tough to see how they decide or have any impact on big issues. More a fountain of suggestions at that level.

    • Shmuel
      December 22, 2013, 2:36 am

      what does “constitutionally” mean when discussing Israel?

      Israel does have a working constitution, based on the Israeli Declaration of Independence, international charters and law, Basic Laws, and even the sense of decency of an imaginary “reasonable man”. There is no separate constitutional court, and the High Court of Justice indeed plays an active role in interpreting and determining what is and is not constitutional.

      The obvious constitutional problems with the anti-boycott law concern freedom of speech and the right to equality (discrimination based on political positions), which are considered constitutionally guaranteed in Israel (whether they derive from the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty or some other source).

      • Citizen
        December 22, 2013, 5:03 pm

        @ Shmuel
        Yes, if you are saying there’s at least 30 Israeli laws that facially discriminate daily in a discriminatory manner against non-Jewish Israeli citizens (citizens, as in how they are defined other than in Israel, e.g., in USA). Many more that operate in discriminatory fashion on de facto basis.

      • ritzl
        December 23, 2013, 12:15 am

        Thanks Shmuel. I thought it was just the Basic Laws that were euphemistically called a constitution. I have some reading to do…

        Without a written document, and given all the perhaps changeable, negotiable, and/or “outside” context you describe that also shapes “constitutionality” in Israel, is it fair to say that the High Court is the Israeli Constitution at any given time?

        It looks like they are emulating something like the British common law system, but without the centuries of input. I guess as a US citizen, I never understood the British system either. It always seemed so, transient. ;)

        Thanks again. Will read more.

        HH

  4. Talkback
    December 21, 2013, 5:36 pm

    Even without law, the situation in Israel is sinking into fascism. You cannot openly say what you want, if you don’t want to get terrorized, your stuff vandalized or receive death threats.

  5. pabelmont
    December 22, 2013, 6:22 pm

    “Gush Shalom to take down its list of settlement goods (a very useful resource for the settlement boycott)…”.

    Sad. To publish the list is not (explicitly) to take a stand one way or another about advising people what NOT to buy. It could be construed as a where-to-buy-things list.

    I wonder if Israeli courts would see the following as promoting BDS: “I myself do not buy the following items, which are produced in the Samaria region, but I do not advise or request anyone else not to buy them, and I’ve heard that some people do buy these things.

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