The Knesset made a preliminary move to approve a bill banning boycotts against the state, following a stormy debate during which Arab and left-wing MKs walked out.
Meanwhile, the Foreign and Justice ministries warned that the bill, approved in its first reading Tuesday, could harm Israel's relations with other states.
The bill was proposed by MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) and 24 other MKs, some of them from the Kadima Party. It stipulates that severe sanctions will be imposed on any Israeli calling for or supporting a boycott against Israeli citizens, factories, companies, and organizations from within the state.
The bill is intended to prevent internal boycotts, especially those frequently called against products manufactured in West Bank settlements.
Elkin explained that the bill has a precedent in the US. "It appears that the reality in Israel demands a similar law against Israeli citizens. It is mainly in reference to the artists' boycott against the Ariel cultural center, construction in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, and lately the classical music festival in Eilat," he explained.
The new law, if passed, will allow the state to fine any Israeli citizen who supports or initiates a boycott a sum of NIS 30,000 ($8,200), even if damages have not been incurred. Additional fines can be charged according to the amount of damage done.
Initiators of the bill say it is intended to deal with a wide variety of boycotts – economic, academic, and others – as Israel has seen lately.
"The bill differentiates between three kinds of boycotts: Boycotts imposed by Israeli residents or citizens, boycotts imposed by foreign residents or citizens, and boycotts imposed by a foreign state or entity through laws it has legislated," the explanation of the bill says.
But Arab and left-wing MKs were outraged, calling the bill racist and saying it goes against freedom of speech and public protest. The Foreign and Justice ministries were also opposed, claiming the bill would serve Israel's enemies and lead to additional moves against the state.
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