Knesset outlaws political boycott by 48 votes to 37

The Knesset just passed into law the anti-boycott initiative bill of MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), by a majority of 47 to 38. Many Knesset members, including Shas, top Likud members and all of Atzmaut (Ehud Barak’s faction) were absent. Netanyahu was also absent from the vote. We hope to have the names of the MKs for you and for posterity soon.

As Roi Maor wrote here earlier,

….the law seeks to penalize those who call for boycotting Israel, the settlements, or anyone related to the occupation. If a person, for example, calls for a boycott of academic institutions that participate in the occupation, he could be sued in civil court, and ordered to pay compensation. If a company agrees not to purchase products manufactured in the settlements, it could be barred from government contracts. If an NGO joins the global BDS call, it could be stripped of its non-profit status, and compelled to pay taxes as if it was a commercial firm.

The legal advisor of the Knesset already voiced grave warnings regarding the constitutionality of law, and Adalah and Association for Civil Rights Israel  already announced they will petition the Supreme Court to strike it down. Their petitions are expected to be filed in the coming days. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, informed the government he is ready to defend the law at the Supreme Court.

The vote was preceded by a heated debate, with opposition members accusing the coalition of an attack on Israeli democracy. “I know of nothing that causes more de-legitimization for Israel abroad than these acts of legislation,” said MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz. MK Nino Abessadze (Kadima) accused the government of taking Israel back to the Stalinist Bolshevism of the 1930’s. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) defended the law on behalf of the government, claiming that boycott in itself is an undemocratic act:

“It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood. A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong.”

Yet it is important to note that Israel didn’t ban all boycotts tonight – just those directed against the country’s 44 years of occupation.

I would add two observations: One, this law will obviously do more to “de-legitimize” Israel as a “normal” western-style democracy than any action by the BDS movement could dream to. Two: This is the first of an entire barrage of anti-democratic bills being pushed for legislation that actually went through. Tonight may well be the night when the ruling coalition – up to and including its wackiest members – will finally realize it is in power, it is in control and the parliamentary Left can do very little to stop it. Unless the High Court of Justice strikes down the law – and the Court has been very cautious in recent years, knowing full well it is also a target for crippling and/or decommission – we should brace ourselves for more similar laws, coming fast and furious over the next few months.

Read more on the boycott law:

Why the Left shouldn’t petition the High Court against the law (Yossi Gurvitz)

Knesset study finds boycott law unparalleled in any democracy (Joseph Dana)

What is the anti-boycott law? Who does it affect? (Roi Maor)

Roger Waters speaks against boycott bill, endorses BDS (Noam Sheizaf)

Boycott: No longer taboo in progressive pro-Israel circles (Mairav Zonszein)


Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report