Will it soon be Illegal for Israelis to support BDS?

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement endorsed by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 has become one of the most controversial issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the spirit of the boycott movement against Apartheid South Africa, BDS activists have racked up a number of successful cultural, academic and economic boycotts of Israel over the country’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. This afternoon, the state of Israel took steps towards criminalizing support of BDS by Israeli citizens.

A Knesset bill (Hebrew) that would criminalize support of BDS by Israeli citizens passed its first reading this afternoon. According to the Alternative Information Center the bill was,

First submitted on 9 June 2010 by 25 Knesset members and endorsed by members of various factions. Its hazy wording would make a number of actions, now considered free speech, illegal.It is prohibited to initiate a boycott against the State of Israel, to encourage participation in it, or to provide assistance or information with the purpose of advancing it,” section 2 of the proposed bill states.Sections 3 and 4 of the proposed legislation state that, “An act of a citizen or resident of Israel in violation of Section 2 constitutes a civil wrong, and it will be subject to the provisions of the Torts Ordinance,” and “The court will award compensation for the civil wrong according to this law in the following manner: a. Punitive damages of up to 30,000 NIS to an injured party subject to the proof of any damage.”

If proven they participated in a boycott, individuals who are not citizens or residents of Israel can also be punished by having their right to enter the country denied for at least 10 years, according to the proposed legislation.The bill’s initiators say it aims “to protect the State of Israel and particularly its citizens from academic, economic, and other boycotts.

The BDS bill reveals a number of important details about how Israel understands the movement. Israel is in a panic about the boycott and BDS has been successful in challenging the status quo of continued occupation, control and ‘peace talks’ which have been the reality on the ground for the past five years.  The bill also reflects the dangerously poor health of Israeli democracy. Various left wing Israeli organizations labeled the bill as an anti-free speech measure by right wing parties such as Yisrael Beityanu. Organizations such as the Coalition of Women for Peace argued that the bill was directed at silencing free speech and the right to protest the occupation. Indeed, if the right to protest nonviolently against Israel’s Occupation is criminalized, the democratic character of the county is in serious question.

The state of Israel is about to show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that occupation and control of the Palestinians are more important than a healthy democracy for its own citizens. The bill is a slippery slope towards total control of dissent in Israel. Before you know it, even reading this piece about BDS will be illegal in the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East.

This bill targets the most privileged Ashkenazi intellectuals, professors and thinkers in the country supporting a nonviolent measure against Israel’s occupation. If the state is trying to silence and criminalize dissent from the upper echelon of Israeli society,just imagine how they treat Palestinians.