Knesset study: No democracy has similar anti-boycott laws

Some claim that the Israeli anti-boycott bill is similar to anti-boycott measures in other democratic countries. A Knesset fact finding commission found that there are similar anti-boycott measures in countries like Venezuela and Eritrea but could not find anything similar in another democracy.

Protest against the "Boycott Law" Tel Aviv Photo by Oren Ziv/
Protest against the "Boycott Law" Tel Aviv Photo by Oren Ziv/

Late yesterday evening after a marathon discussion which bordered on a filibuster, the Israeli Knesset passed the anti-Boycott bill through its final reading. The landmark bill criminalizes support of boycotts against Israel and its occupation, exposing individuals and organizations that support such boycotts to endless lawsuits and heavy fines. The anti-boycott bill is latest in a wave of pernicious legislation being debated in the Knesset which attack freedom of speech and expression, often specifically targeting Israel’s Palestinian minority.

Almost as soon as the bill passed its final reading, an American anti-boycott compliance document spread through the social media world like wildfire. Citing this document, defenders of Israel’s anti-boycott bill claimed that similar legislation had been drafted in the United States. In response to the anti-boycott bill, the oft used pro-Israel debating tacit of “if happens somewhere else in the world, then it is ok here” was deployed in full defensive force using the American document.

Reading the document, it seems clear that it has no similarity to the Israeli bill. In reference to Israel, the American document prohibits US companies from ‘furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League and certain Muslim countries.” Namely, the document targets countries or governments pushing a boycott of Israel. The Israeli boycott bill, on the other hand, targets civil society organizations and individuals. There is no similar law in the United States that addresses civil society boycotts against the State of Israel. Follow the highlighted link for ACRI’s in-depth report on the matter and how the laws differ. Quite simply, comparing the anti-boycott law and this American anti-boycott compliance document is akin to comparing apples and pears.

In the run up to the vote on the anti-boycott bill, a Knesset fact finding commission was created to find similar anti-boycott laws in other countries. On January 30, 2011, the commission released a small report (Heb) which found that there are no similar anti-boycott laws in democratic countries. On page 2, the report states that,

Our committee focused on reviewing similar arrangements [laws] in Europe, but we did not find arrangements in these countries that were similar to our proposed legislation

Unable to find similar anti-boycott laws in democratic countries, the commission looked for examples in countries like Venezuela, Ethiopia and Eritrea for similar laws. On page 2, the report explains its rationale,

The following survey will briefly demonstrate the main arrangements found, although in some of these cases, there are existing arrangements in countries that are not necessarily democracies/western and while normally not included in the surveys conducted by the Knesset research and information center, they have been included in order to exhibit the wide variety of actions taken in this matter.

On the surface, the Israeli anti-boycott bill is innovative in the way that it seeks to limit legitimate freedom of speech and expression under the auspices of democratic infrastructure. However, the Knesset’s own fact finding mission proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the bill has no parallel in other democracies. Arguing that there are similar laws in other democratic countries is simply a device used to ignore the gravity of the present Israeli law. The implications of this bill on freedom of speech and expression in Israel are profound and even the Knesset harbours no illusion that there are similar laws in other democratic countries.

Read more on the boycott law:

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

Breaking: Knesset outlaws political boycott by 48 to 37 (Dimi Reider)

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)