Mixed Reaction to Israel's 'Boycott Bill'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Reactions to a controversial "boycott bill" passed by the Knesset late Monday might have been pretty much divided along party lines.

The bill allows an individual or company in Israel that's been targeted by an economic, cultural or academic boycott to sue for damages in a civil court.

It also stipulates that companies taking part in boycotts would be ineligible to bid on government tenders.

Left-wing parties and several human rights groups strongly condemned the legislation, some calling it "anti-democratic."

A number of liberal Israeli NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) promised to petition the High Court to overturn the legislation.

In a petition submitted Tuesday, Gush Shalom, a left-wing Israeli organization dedicated to "putting and end to the occupation," said the bill "violates basic democratic principles."

The problem for some is it covers all areas "under Israeli control" and that includes Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank.

Boycotting Israeli Products 

Over the past several years, pro-Palestinian groups in Europe, South Africa, and left-wing organizations in Israel have boycotted products manufactured in Judea and Samaria.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority forbade its populace to buy or sell any products from these communities. Pictures in the local media showed P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad throwing bundles of Israeli-made goods into a bonfire. 

Immediately after the bill's passage, the leftist group Peace Now launched a Facebook page entitled, "Prosecute me, I boycott settlement products."

Gush Shalom also appealed to its followers on Facebook to condemn the bill.

Decisions for the Court

Prof. Abraham Diskin, with Hebrew University's Political Science Department, told CBN News any punitive decision would be made by the courts.

"An individual can be sued by someone who believes he was damaged by the boycott -- sued in a civil court. The decision is for the court," he said.

Diskin said the government has a moral obligation to respond to boycotts aimed at damaging the country.

"It is the duty of the government and the Knesset to fight back when the State of Israel is boycotted," he said.

"If you call for a damaging boycott -- academic, cultural, or economic -- it is not acceptable that your salary is paid by the government of Israel," he said.

"You cannot do that at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer. It is morally unacceptable," he said.

Harming Livelihood

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said, "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," Steinitz said. "It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong."

Prof. Diskin said some clarification may be needed in the bill's wording on "verbal expressions" to ensure there's no infringement on freedom of speech for any segment of the population.

Diskin said in Israel, Arab Knesset members have the freedom in the Knesset to call for Israel not to be a Jewish state.

"I love Israel because of that. Freedom of speech is guaranteed for everyone," he said.

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From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

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