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.