Ministers to debate bill to imprison Israeli boycott activists

Text of legislation calling to criminalize pro-BDS actions could extend to settlements and their products, left-wing groups

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

A Palestinian woman walks by a sign calling for a boycott of Israel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on February 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
A Palestinian woman walks by a sign calling for a boycott of Israel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on February 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Ministers are set to deliberate a bill that would see Israelis who actively support a boycott of Israel or its products face up to seven years in prison.

The bill, sponsored by Likud MK Anat Berko, 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.”

Explanatory notes clarify that “the bill is intended to apply to anyone who takes an active part in the movement to boycott Israel or its products.”

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to discuss the bill at its next meeting on Sunday.

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

The authors of the legislation noted 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 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.

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.

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.

Raoul Wootliff and agencies contributed to this report.

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