I am somewhat unhappy with the anti-boycott law – and not because the hysterical far Left screams that it undermines Israeli democracy. I am concerned that if it is not adequately comprehended, it enables demonizers of the Jewish state to pose as bogus martyrs in the cause of freedom of expression.
The legislation has already created anxiety and confusion among many of our genuine friends. Particularly so in the United States, where the concept of freedom of expression without limits is a fetish based (in my opinion) on the false belief that public debate neutralizes hatemongers. It finds American Jewish civil libertarians even defending the right of Nazis to incite hatred.
Yet the US – ironically under the Carter administration – introduced far more draconian laws against boycotting Israel than the fairly tame legislation (with civil rather than criminal penalties) passed by the Knesset. It is noteworthy that Will Maslow, a prominent liberal from the American Jewish Congress who proudly produced a newsletter documenting actions taken against the Arab boycott, was never accused of supporting fascist legislation.
Much of the press coverage has focused on the civil remedies provided by the legislation for victims of boycott campaigns of Israel or Israeli communities. If the actions of those promoting boycotts damage segments of Israeli society, the boycotters should be obliged to bear the cost. Former Israeli Supreme Court Judge Yaakov Turkel pointed out that even in the absence of legislation, those suffering economic loss as a result of a boycott may already have a cause of action.
But we should be absolutely clear. The new legislation has no bearing on freedom of speech, and in no way infringes on the right to debate the merits of settlements. However, it is unconscionable to deliberately target a community with the express purpose of causing economic hardship because one is opposed to it ideologically. If extremists called for a boycott of products produced by Arab Israelis in order to promote the goal of transfer, opponents of the current legislation would rightly demand that those inciting such boycotts face criminal sanctions. We should therefore dismiss the hypocritical calls for freedom of expression from those whose primary raison d’être is to undermine the Jewish state.
The principal – and totally justified – motivation of the legislation is to discourage Israelis from promoting the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which today represents an important component of the global war being waged against us.
In this context it is disconcerting that many mainstream American Jewish organizations exclude Jews calling for BDS, while tolerating those who call for boycotts of settlements. They do not appreciate that those boycotting settlements are consciously or unconsciously paving the way for the broader BDS.
It is also obscene to witness the histrionic statements flowing from the Israeli far Left, alleging that Israel is being transformed into a fascist dictatorship.
It is surely not fascist to legislate that organizations which encourage or promote BDS activities against Israel may forfeit their tax-exempt status for charitable donations. This is the principal operative element of the legislation. The far Left’s hypocrisy and chutzpa know no bounds. It wants to maintain the insane scenario whereby Israeli taxpayers subsidize activities undermining their own country. (This parallels academics demanding they be accorded full benefits while simultaneously calling for an international boycott of their own university.)
THE JEWISH state remains the only country in the world which, since its inception, has been obliged to defend itself from neighbors committed to its destruction, and whose civilians are still subject to ongoing rocket attacks. In a recent poll, the vast majority of Palestinians reaffirmed their desire to kill every single Jewish man, woman and child.
Yet Israel remains one of the most robust democracies in the world. It boasts the highest level of free press. Its leaders, including the president and prime minister, are held to stricter accountability than ordinary citizens. And Israel provides its Arabs citizens (who amount to 20% of the population), the right to elect radical MKs who express the views of those seeking our destruction. It is thus utter nonsense to allege that by introducing legislation to curb BDS activities, Israel is on the verge of becoming a fascist dictatorship.
In recent years, much of the Israeli Left seems to have lost the plot. Not so long ago, the dominant Israel Labor party prided itself on representing the essence of the Zionist establishment. Its role models were pioneers and farmers creating settlements and transforming deserts into gardens.
In contrast, today the Israeli far Left has been hijacked by urban post-Zionists. Many left-wing academics seem to have absorbed the cosmopolitan characteristics of diaspora Jewry. Some, like the 19th-century Russian Jewish Social Revolutionaries who regarded pogroms as necessary to create revolutionary consciousness among the masses, today even identify with the Palestinian jihadists and pay tribute to their culture of death.
They share the outlook of European post-modernists, and classify Israel with European post-colonial guilt. They spew hatred against their own people, demonize the IDF and paved the way for the Goldstone Report. In so doing they were assured instant recognition and standing among their European counterparts.
In these troubling times, we must consider how to deal with citizens engaging in activities which undermine the very existence of the state, or provide aid to those seeking our destruction. This is not fascism, it is self-preservation. The German Weimar Republic is testimony to the tragic outcome when a democratic state fails to protect itself against forces seeking to undermine it.
We can achieve this while retaining our unique Jewish democratic character. But it will only be accomplished if the prime minister and leader of the opposition are both willing to set aside their ambition and petty politics to promote the national interest.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post