In 2011, Israel passed the ‘Boycott Law’. The law makes Israeli citizens legally liable if they boycott, or encourage a boycott of an Israeli product, company, or institution, if that boycott “harms the state”. Since then, Israel has been piling up amendments to the original law, and additional legislation that aims to silence opposition to its systematic abuses of the human rights of the indigenous Palestinian people.
As the Boycott Law stands, Israeli citizens are under threat of being sued a minimum of 8,500 USD in damages, if they make a public call not to purchase a product or service from an Israeli company, which is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, or explicitly do so themselves. In such cases, the State of Israel identifies itself with the brand name, and enables the companies to file vindictive lawsuits.
As an illustration of this anti-democratic legislation, if an Israeli citizen decides to cancel a contract with a mobile phone provider for bad service – they are not legally liable. But if they wish to cancel a contract with a mobile phone provider for providing services to the Israeli army, which systematically subjects a population of millions of indigenous Palestinians to systematic, daily human rights violations and war crimes – they may be legally liable.
This anti-democratic Israeli law makes it possible to sue Israeli citizens and human rights activists like us for the aforementioned hefty sum, and to sue us for damages on top of that.
The only reservation which the Israeli Supreme Court has expressed regarding the Boycott Law, during its hearing of an appeal in 2015, was that the law stated there was no need to prove a causal link between the action of a boycott supporter and the damages inflicted on the plaintiff. This ‘Damages-without-proven-damages’ clause was removed, but the remaining legislation aims to economically threaten human rights defenders into silence.
As of March 2018, Israel seems determined to erode the political rights of its recognized citizens, and to further trample the hardly-existent rights of the Palestinian subjects of its military occupation regime. If passed, a new amendment to the law will see the ‘damages-without-proven-damage’ clause reinstated, with the sum to be paid in fines raised three times over.
Israel has narrowed the role of its citizens’ participation in its politics by making them choose between keeping silent about its systematic human rights violations against the indigenous Palestinian people, or participating directly in the settler-colonization of Palestinian land. Ironically, more and more Israeli legislation and policies are targeting human rights defenders, including Israeli Jews, and stifling the right to freedom of speech of Israeli citizens, merely for their nonviolent pursuit of justice and their opposition to Israel’s military occupation and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.
Despite the Israeli government’s claims, attached to the proposed amendment, the State of Israel is not protecting its citizens. On the contrary; Israel is denying its citizens the basic right to object to its actions and policies, at a time when it systematically violates human rights. Instead of ceasing and desisting from the violations, the state uses business owners as pawns against human rights defenders, making those business owners complicit in Israel’s crimes, and limiting their ability to abide by international law.
The Anti-Boycott Law piles a miscarriage of justice on a travesty of justice: A state that is founded on the non-recognition of a population under its jurisdiction, and on physical, economic, and cultural violence against that very same population is now also a state that confines the resistance to the violence it enacts as a matter of course. Such a state cannot be called democratic, and is not a democracy.
The Israeli government’s blacklisting of, and legislation against human rights organizations, reflect its realization that grassroots global solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian people is growing significantly. In a system which consistently oppresses a particular marginalized group based on indigeneity, as well as other marginalized, ethnic and racial communities, it comes as no surprise that human rights defenders, even the privileged ones, are silenced as well.
Israel’s expanding legal measures against human rights defenders are just one more reason to hold it accountable for its seven decades-long violations of human, civil, and indigenous rights. We are not deterred, and we ask the international community to continue demanding accountability, by enacting boycotting, divesting from, and employing sanctions against Israel, in accordance with Palestinian civil society’s BDS call, until Israel abides by international law and respects the Palestinian people’s demands for justice, freedom, and equality.