Liberalism and Anti-Boycott Laws

This piece, by Alan A, is cross posted from Harry’s Place.

Liberalism is both a strength and a source of weakness.

Free societies are most certainly handicapped by their adherence to liberal values. Freedom of expression and conscience allows hate filled sectarians to build powerful political movements. Freedom from torture may well result, upon occasion, in an undiscovered terrorist bomb going off. Liberal societies may, at times, find themselves so hamstrung by choices and competing arguments that they become paralysed and incapable of action. And so on.

At the same time, it is only liberal societies which have the ability to stand up to authoritarian and totalitarian politics. They represent the promise, to those oppressed, that there is an alternative to those nightmare states which ban free expression and promote torture. In an open society,  novel and creative ways of responding to challenges are more easily developed. More to the point: cultures which cherish liberal values are capable of developing bottom up, civil society responses to the challenges they face. Authoritarian cultures look for top down solutions, which may well fail to engage an apathetic citizenry.

So, boycotts and anti boycott laws?

Quite simply, people should have a right to boycott who they want. Israelis who want to boycott their own country, or produce from the West Bank, should be free to do so. Although, frankly, I do think that those who call for a boycott of Israel, or who participate in “direct action” against Israeli producers are often antisemitic, they aren’t always. People, particularly within Israel, may have diverse reasons for making the stand they do. This is a pretty basic freedom.

Boycotts are a direct attack on Israel, and often are a means of promoting hostility to Jews. However a society which believes that anti-boycott legislation will fight those twin demons is mistaken. Such laws weaken the ability to fight back against discrimination and hatred.

Yes, the US has an anti-boycott law, and the European Court of Human Rights has held that France is free to convict politicians who call for boycotts of Israel. This does not make the Israeli law proper or prudent. Indeed, the Israeli law is in a number of respects, more far reaching and problematic than those precedents.

It isn’t just me who says so.

- Israel’s Attorney General believes that the law “borders on unconstitutionality“, and prominent Israeli jurists share that opinion.

- The ADL’s Abe Foxman has said that the law constitutes “an unnecessary impingement of Israelis’ basic democratic right to freedom of speech”.

- So too, for that matter, does the US.

Ultimately, this comes down to a simple calculus. Are free societies more robust than authoritarian ones. Liberals believe that a free society is self-correcting, and that authoritarian societies become sclerotic and fail.

If you share that conclusion, then you’re a liberal, and should oppose this law.

UPDATE

Michael Weiss at the Telegraph says:

But leave that to one side. What this new anti-boycott law amounts to is a codified commandment: “Thou shalt not de-legitimise.” Rather than confront obnoxious or dodgy opinions, which the so-called BDS movement represents, the Knesset would rather ban those opinions altogether. Zionism used to be made of sterner stuff.

This piece, by Alan A, is cross posted from Harry’s Place.

11 Responses to “Liberalism and Anti-Boycott Laws”

  1. Steven Says:

    We are in a war, and individuals need legal mechanisms to defend their livelihood against attacks on theory livelihood, as the state needs legal mechanisms to counter attacks on its sovereignty. Israel should have stronger protective laws than the EU and US as Israel is, and has always been, target number 1.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      So that makes it alright to ban Israeli citizens from criticising their own country? And this is a measure of the strength of Israel as a liberal society in what way?

      One does not win a war of ideas and ideology by adopting one’s opponents ideas and ideology. That way, _they_ win. It is for this reason that I personally oppose too “strenuous” measures to combat terrorism: if we aren’t careful, we finish up destroying what the terrorists set out to destroy: we do their job for them. Personally, I am against collective boycott campaigns, especially when against one allegedly “worst” offender of some sort, whilst, at the same time, ignoring all the other equally bad offenders. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am therefore obliged to buy that one country’s products and services, or indeed any other countries ditto.

      To approve of Israel’s ban on its own citizens calling for boycotts does at least half the job for the UCU: “see, they are every bit as authoritarian as we say they are. The _deserve_ to be boycotted”.

      If that’s what you want, Steven, go right ahead and support the Israeli government Act.

  2. Bill Says:

    If there is undue slander and such, tort law can come to defense of sellers who are being lied about, etc. and they too should be able to have their day in court, but not in such a hand-holding manner. And overall the right to do business is the right not to do business. That’s clear. And having a “new” law when current law should work is never a good idea (at least they didn’t name it after a dead kid like we like to do over here). I already commit six felonies before breakfast. I could do without a new one.

    But make no bones about it, we fully recognize that the BDS movement doesn’t want to boycott produce, they want to boycott Israeli Jews and only them, and then “lean on” (can’t say discriminate!) Jews anywhere that don’t read off their script.

    So yes, oppose this law (and the other bad ones of this nature), but don’t think for a moment that we’ll let them off the hook with their broader goal of banning Jews and promoting & enabling antisemetic workspaces — or use dud laws like this to play dishonest whataboutery. And the laws the BDSers want to break have considerable legal history, care, case law, and clearly visible thresholds written into them.

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    “The ADL’s Abe Foxman has said that the law constitutes “an unnecessary impingement of Israelis’ basic democratic right to freedom of speech”.

    My goodness, Israel is about to feel the full fury of the “Israel Lobby” – how else will we be able to explain the overturning of the “anti-boycott law”?

  4. Schlieffel Says:

    According to this report, the law is not against boycotting the settlements, it is against boycotting the state of Israel. Can anyone clarify?

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4095084,00.html

    If one is under siege, I can understand certain defensive measures. Does it infringe free speech? Yes. I am not sure the law is especially wise, but I can understand the urge to close ranks against enemies or perceived enemies within. And it is anomalous that the state funds bodies calling for BDS against it. I don’t like the idea of the law, because it would probably make me feel more under siege than I might otherwise have to. The message is symbolic: we will not tolerate enemies among us. That for me is scary, because it brings to life just how real the siege is. But maybe that is just reality. And if one can’t stand the heat, perhaps one should exit the kitchen. Either that or deal with it.

    BDSers have brought about the siege, they must deal with the consequence of the besieged closing ranks.

  5. Absolute Observer Says:

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/dozens-of-israeli-law-professors-protest-unconstitutional-boycott-law-1.373152

    “Dozens of Israeli law professors protest ‘unconstitutional’ boycott law”

    Sometimes when faced with an ugly populism that masks its undemocratic tendencies in the language of democratic mandate, then only recourse to the law will do. No wonder the coalition government in Israel wants to curtail the role of the judges (they want a bigger say on appointments); that is what reactionary governments everywhere and always who know that what they are doing stinks, tend to do.

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    Schlieffel,
    I note your equivocation about the law, but note the type of language you have adopted, “siege”, “enemies within”.
    These are examples of the classic terms used by undemocratic tendencies to describe and deligitimse their (legitimate) opponents. I should know,
    Reading Engage, it becomes clear that members of the UCU who questioned and opposed the boycott were told they were not “real” unionists, that their loyalties were not to the Union but to “outsiders” – in other words, that we were “enemies within”; and that the Union was “under siege” by the same “outsiders”; the power of the Israel Lobby
    With all due respect, I am afraid that the terms you use to “describe” this issue offers a glimpse into the reactionary and dangerous nature of the politics being pursued by the Coalition.

    • Schlieffel Says:

      ‘With all due respect, I am afraid that the terms you use to “describe” this issue offers a glimpse into the reactionary and dangerous nature of the politics being pursued by the Coalition.’

      In a sense, I agree, for I was using the terms of those who perceive thusly. It was an exercise in empathy.

      But BDS is a kind of siege. One often hears of e.g. ‘the siege of apartheid S.A.’.

  7. Gideon Swort Says:

    According to this report, the law is not against boycotting the settlements, it is against boycotting the state of Israel. Can anyone clarify?

    So, how many of those opining this “Boycott” law here on Engage have actually read it? (I mean the actual Law not an opinion piece)
    C’mon lets have a show of hands.

    • Toby Esterhase Says:

      Here’s a translation. I think the key part is at the beginning, the definition of “a boycott of Israel” includes “or areas under the control”

      Definition 1.

      In this Act, “a boycott of Israel” – intentionally avoiding economic links, cultural or academic with a person or with anyone else, but because of his connection to Israel, its institutions or areas under the control, which can hurt him vulnerable economic, cultural or academic.

      Boycott – a civil wrong 2.

      (A) The public reading knowingly advertiser boycotts of Israel, and according to the contents of the call and the circumstances in which published a reasonable possibility that the call would impose a boycott, and the advertiser is aware of such possibility, doing a tort and the provisions of the Torts Ordinance [New Version] shall apply to him.

      (B) For purposes of section 62 (a) of the Torts Ordinance [New Version] would not see who made legally binding contract violations by calling for a boycott on the State of Israel and who acted out of reasonable excuse.

      (C) the court finds that a wrong was done deliberately by this Act, he may require the wrongdoer to pay compensation do not depend on the damage (in this section – compensation for example) when determining the amount of compensation, for example, the court will consider, among other things, the circumstances of commission of the wrong , severity and scope.

      Provisions limiting participation in the tender 3.

      Finance Minister with the consent of the Minister of Justice and approval by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, prescribe provisions regarding limiting participation in the tender of those who posted knowingly public call to boycott Israel, or of those who undertook to participate in the boycott as stated, including a commitment not to purchase goods or services produced or provided State of Israel, its institutions or in an institution that is controlled in this section “tender” – a tender has to make the Mandatory Tenders Law, 1992.

      Provisions on prevention benefits 4.

      (A) the Minister of Finance, in consultation with the Minister of Justice may decide as to who knowingly issued a public call for a boycott on Israel or its commitment to participate in the boycott said that -

      (1) shall not be a public institution, the purposes of section 46 of the Income Tax;
      (2) is not entitled to receive funds from the Sports Betting under section 9 of the Sports Betting, 1967; exercise of authority under this paragraph shall require the consent of the Minister of Culture and Sport;
      (3) is not considered a public institution under section 3A of the Foundations of the Budget 1985 for the acceptance of support under section budget; exercise of authority under this paragraph shall require the consent of the Minister designated by the Minister in charge of the Budget, as described in paragraph (2) of the definition “in charge of the Budget,” said Law;
      (4) is not entitled to bail by the State Guarantees Act, 1958;
      (5) is not entitled to benefits under the Encouragement of Capital Investments Law, 1959 or under the Encouragement of Research and Development in Industry, 1984; exercise of authority under this paragraph shall require the consent of the Minister of Trade and Industry. ”

      (B) exercising its authority under subsection (a), will the Minister of Finance in accordance with regulations to install this matter with the consent of the Minister of Justice and approval by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; However, no regulations were mentioned, it can not hurt the authority under subsection (a).

      implementation 5. Minister of Justice is responsible for implementing this law.

      Commencement 6.
      Commencement of section 4 ninety days from the date of publication of this law.

      • Gideon Swort Says:

        Yes Toby. I read it in (my limited) Hebrew. This Google translation is not that good, that’s why I didn’t post it. The first sentence refers to present Israeli sovereignty.

        Ok, now that we are all on the same page, let the informed dissection begin.


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