Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Blog

By Ed Gaier
edward.gaier@gmail.com
Ed Gaier is an Arab American Institute intern working at TSD Communications.

 

Well, sort of. In response to the increasing pressure of boycotts protesting the continued Israeli occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli parliament has passed legislation allowing litigation against groups and individuals calling for the boycott of Israeli economic, cultural and academic establishments. The law also prohibits individuals and organizations involved in boycotts from bidding on state contracts. One suit is already underway; Israeli Member of the Knesset (MK) Alex Miller wasted no time in suing another MK, Ahmed Tibi, over calls to boycott the Israeli settlement of Ariel.

Almost immediately, the legislation and its supporters on the Israeli right have come under harsh criticism from an array of players. Most are claiming the law violates democratic principles, since the conscious choice of what to consume and where to participate is widely seen as a protected form of free expression. They argue that the Knesset’s bill effectively bans an individual’s right to consume based on his or her own political beliefs and limits free choice in Israel.

In addition to the critical op-eds popping up across publications in Israel, the State Department called the ban an attack on the “shared democratic values” of the United State and Israel. Even the Anti-Defamation League, usually loathe to oppose Israeli policies of any stripe, opposes the ban as an infringement on democratic freedoms.

Many, including opposition parties in Israel, argue that the boycott law in itself is doing more harm to Israel’s international reputation. By passing a bill linking Israel proper with the settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community and the United States, the Netanyahu government has entrenched its position behind a key barrier to a two-state solution. The bill has provoked a strong response on the domestic level. Peace Now, an Israeli organization dedicated to peaceful resolution in the Arab-Israeli conflict, has responded to the bill by calling for boycotts against Israeli settlements for the first time. 

The Knesset’s reaction and recent events demonstrate two interesting facts. First, boycotts work as a means to oppose continued illegal settlements and occupation. Activists do not have to limit themselves to attending the occasional demonstration and writing to elected officials (even though these tactics are essential for policy changes). Individuals can now take it upon themselves to enact change through their role as consumers and institutionalize economic and political costs through the free market.

Second, the ban demonstrates that Israel’s current policy on settlements is unsustainable, and incompatible with democratic values and human rights. When faced with a dilemma on whether or not to discontinue the illegal settlement expansion in the occupied territories, the Netanyahu government has chosen to undermine the freedoms of their own country. For Israel, it’s continued illegal settlements or bust.

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