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The anti-boycott law crosses a line: will Israel’s true friends now wake up?

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July 13, 2011 by Antony Lerman

Only a few days ago I was talking about the issue of boycotting Israel with Jewish friends at a party. All could be defined as critical friends of Israel or liberal Zionists, deeply disturbed by the intransigence of the Netanyahu government and the anti-democratic trends gaining in strength in Israeli society. No one dissented from the principle of boycotting produce from Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. But when I suggested that the idea of a more general economic and cultural boycott of Israel was gaining support and that since the situation in Israel-Palestine had become so dire, it might be one of the ways of forcing Israel to end the occupation and begin serious negotiations with the Palestinians to reach a just settlement of the conflict, my thought was met with immediate condemnation and rejection. The settlements are one thing, boycotting universities or businesses in Israel itself quite another, I was told. It would hit liberal Israelis who are themselves severely critical of the Netanyahu government. Underpinning the arguments was the common, unspoken feeling one senses among even very concerned Jews: a visceral shrinking back from the idea that Israeli Jews could ever deserve the treatment meted out to apartheid South Africa. For them, it was perfectly logical and principled to separate boycotting Jewish settlements in the West Bank from boycotting Israel proper. The settlements represent the Zionism that has gone astray. Pre-’67 Israel still represents the values of democracy, human rights, equality and the rule of law.

Well, now that the Israeli Knesset has voted 47-38 in favour of the law for the Prevention of Damage to the State through Boycott (the Anti-Boycott Law), which makes it an offence for citizens to either advocate or implement an academic, consumer or cultural boycott of Israel, including Jewish settlements in the West Bank, I wonder what these good friends of Israel feel about being consigned, at a stroke, to the category of enemies of the state? Some of them have spent years of their voluntary time supporting Israel in one way or another, donating funds to charities, investing in Israeli businesses, defending the country in political forums and working for Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation.

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Follow me on Twitter: @tonylerman

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