The High Court of Justice on Wednesday largely rejected an appeal against a law which limits Israelis’ ability to call for boycotts of West Bank settlements.
The 2011 law does not make a boycott a criminal offense, but allows plaintiffs to file a civil lawsuit demanding compensation from those who call for boycotts.
Israeli rights groups petitioning against the law had said the law infringes on the right to free speech, while defenders of the law said it prohibits discrimination based on geography.
A panel of nine judges determined that the law was mostly on solid ground. Only one, important, clause was rejected: a section stipulating that courts may order unlimited sums in compensation to plaintiffs without proof of damages.
While Justice Hanan Meltzer, who wrote the majority opinion, agreed that the law limited free speech, he asserted that the limitation was in this case proportionate as boycotts were, in general, an undesired measure.
Meltzer said the only clause which could disproportionately limit free speech was the one the court elected to annul.
Petitioners lambasted the court’s ruling, calling the anti-boycott legislation “a law to silence dissent, intended solely to hush up legitimate criticisms. The High Court’s ruling enables serious injury to freedom of speech and to the basic right to political action on issues of contest.”
The law has not been tested in court, as no lawsuits have yet been filed, in part because the court itself froze implementation of the law due to the appeals against it.
The ruling came against a backdrop of an international boycott campaign against Israel’s settlement policies in captured territories claimed by the Palestinians.
The Palestinians and most of the international community say settlements are illegal because they are built on war-won land that the Palestinians want for their future state.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who initiated the law, said the aim was to prevent discrimination against people based on where they lived. He said Israel has to defend itself against those aiming to harm it.
More than 550,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, contiguous areas captured in the 1967 Six Day War, among roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. Some Israelis see a major security risk in giving up the West Bank, which commands the highland over central Israel. Many Jews regard the area, known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria, as their biblical heartland.
AP contributed to this report.