Bill calling to jail Israeli boycott activists to be rejected — report

Bill calling to jail Israeli boycott activists to be rejected — report

Senior source in ministerial committee says legislation sponsored by Likud MK harms Israeli interests and ‘will not pass’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

A ministerial body that vets legislation is expected to reject a bill that would jail Israelis who actively support a boycott of the country or its products, according to a report Saturday.

The bill, sponsored by Likud MK Anat Berko, is slated to be debated by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday.

A senior committee source told the Haaretz newspaper that the legislation harms Israel’s interest and “will not pass.”

The bill would legislate a jail term of seven years for anyone who “takes an active part in the movement to boycott Israel or its products.”

According to its text, it aims to expand existing laws dealing with actions against the state to include “anyone who damages the interest of the State of Israel, the relations between Israel and another country, organization of institute or any interest they have in Israel.”

Currently, the law enables sentences of 10 years in prison for anyone who commits a crime as part of an attempt to “harm” Israel, or up to a life sentence for more serious offenses such as treason.

The proposed change in the law would make it a crime to harm Israel’s interests, even if no other crime is committed.

The legislation notes that while it is legitimate to criticize Israel and there is no intention to impact freedom of speech, “those who lend a hand to a boycott that harms Israel economically or damages it in another way, such as an academic boycott, will need to face justice.”

The bill has the backing of Likud MKs David Bitan, David Amsalem and Yoav Kisch, as well as members of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and UTJ and the coalition Kulanu party.

Likud party MK Anat Berko speaks in the Knesset, July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The bill uses vague language about which national interests it will apply to and could enable the inclusion of West Bank settlements and their products, Haaretz reported, citing sources close to Berko.

Some boycott activists campaign for divestment only from settlements and settlement products while opposing boycotts of Israel itself.

The report said the bill could also apply to the activities of left-wing groups in Israel, such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

Israel has been faced with boycott calls for decades, but the movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) has raised its profile in recent years with help from famous backers.

A man holds a sign during a rally in support of the BDS movement in Albany New York, on June 15, 2016. (AP/Mike Groll)

The proposed law comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Israel’s attempts to fight boycotts against the state, after a US student was barred from entering the country for studies for two before the Supreme Court ruled she must be allowed in. The case had brought international attention to Israel’s anti-BDS policies.

In 2011, the government passed a law allowing civil lawsuits that demand compensation from those who call for boycotts against companies in Israel and West Bank settlements. The legislation was largely upheld by the High Court of Justice in 2015, though justices repealed a clause stipulating that courts may order unlimited sums in compensation to plaintiffs without proof of damages.

Raoul Wootliff and agencies contributed to this report.

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