While legislators in Australia, France and the U.S. are seeking to punish those who call for boycott of Israel, the leader of the Israeli party Meretz said she practices a boycott of settlement products and supports a European Union policy to not invest over the Green Line. “I haven’t bought products from the settlements for years,” said Zahava Gal-On in an interview this week with Haaretz:
‘The decision by the EU as part of Horizon 2020, an umbrella program for research and development, was dramatic and significant. It stated that the billions to be invested here would be invested inside legitimate and sovereign Israel and not in the settlements. I support that policy. I haven’t bought products from the settlements for years. The governments of Israel, which hid their heads in the sand and did not look reality in the eye, were partying as if they were on the Titanic, ignoring the angry European iceberg that approached them. Israel should not be investing in the settlements. The policy of control of the settlements will cause European friends to stop investing in Israel completely.
For many years, nobody succeeded in convincing the Israeli public that the occupation had a price, and I think that the occupation − which is a moral issue also has a financial price that the state is paying. The country’s leaders need to understand that it has a price. I oppose a boycott of the State of Israel and am worried about the trend toward a boycott. Somebody needs to get a grip.’
The petition to annul the law insists that by making calls to boycott Israel — including those against settlements or enterprises in occupied territory — a civil offense, it violates political freedom of expression. The law stipulates that a party claiming injury due to a boycott need not prove damages, monetary or otherwise, for the accused to be held liable in a civil suit. An earlier draft of the law that made calling for a boycott a criminal offense was adjusted prior to being passed in July 2011.
The civil society groups argued that even if the law is nearly impossible to enforce, its very existence has a “chilling effect,” leading to self-censorship and stifling of a necessary and legitimate political debate about Israeli policy, and that it is not an attack on Israel itself. They claimed that the law effectively blocks a legitimate form of non-violent protest against the policies of the state. Peace organization Gush Shalom, for example, was forced to remove from its website a list of products and companies originating from the West Bank; its lawyers claimed that the law thus alters and hinders prior activity of the organization.
However, abroad restrictions on activism against Israeli policies are inching onward. In France wearing a “boycott Israel” tee-shirt is considered a hate crime, in the U.S. Congress will debate de-funding public universities that endorse a cultural or academic boycott, and in Australia a federal case was brought against an academic who signed a petition to not invite an Israeli professor who teaches at the Hebrew University (the school has a campus in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem).
While Israel too has had its own anti-boycott law on the book since 2012, no charges have ever been filed using the legislation. None of these statements or actions brought to trial abroad have been any more incendiary than stances taken by Israelis themselves—including additional officials of the Israeli government.