The Knesset voted Monday in favor of the controversial "boycott bill," which proposes imposing sanctions against anyone declaring a commercial embargo on Israel. The vote was carried 47 to 38.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were conspicuously absent from the vote, while Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin abstained. The Kadima faction voted against the bill, and members of the Independence faction abstained and were not present for the bill's second and third readings.
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The bill, which was backed by the cabinet, states that any boycott against Israel or any group located within its territory, including the West Bank, will be labeled a civil offense and its initiators will be subject to litigation. The legislation has been the focus of harsh criticism.
Kadima blasted Netanyahu for his absence from the vote: "Netanyahu's government harms Israel and should be the first to pay the price... Netanyahu's scuttle from tonight's vote does not diminish the harm he has done. He has crossed a red line of stupidity and national irresponsibility.
"Netanyahu knows the gravity the law's impact will have, but is demonstrating political flaccidity and total capitulation to the extreme right which is taking over the Likud. The boycott bill is a mark of disgrace for Netanyahu's government and the State of Israel and its citizens will pay for it dearly."
The plenum (Photo: Atta Awisat)
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) called the bill "a cowardly law," and "another law in a series of fascist laws drafted by the government."
Several human rights groups, including Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights, immediately announced that they would file a High Court appeal against the new law, and asked that it be annulled.
The groups plan to argue the law is anti-constitutional, that it impedes political freedom of expression, and violates international law and the laws of torts.
Dr. Yishai Menuchin of the Public Committee Against Torture said: "The road to anti-democratic hell is sometimes paved with good intentions – but not this time. The Knesset is full of legislators who took it upon themselves to infringe on Israel's democracy time and time again.
"The boycott law is just another step by the legislator to eradicate democracy in Israel. Warnings by human rights groups and many others in Israeli society had failed this time. The Knesset has led Israeli society another step closer to hell."
Adalah Director Hassan Jabarin echoed the sentiment, saying that "Once more we are seeing how the Knesset is trying to promote legislation which does not coincide with international law… The (bill) fails to meet any criteria and we believe the High Court won't accept it."
Ahead of the vote, the Knesset plenum convened for a filibuster, which saw heated arguments from both Left and Right.
The opposition vowed to fight the bill, which it labeled "anti-democratic"; several prominent legalists said that it was "grayish" at best, and unlikely to withstand High Court scrutiny.
Knesset Member Ilan Gilon (Meretz) was the first to speak before the Knesset plenum; he said the recent "anti-democratic" laws, in his words, legislated by the Knesset "black dysentery" that de-legitimizes the State of Israel.
"I know of nothing that causes more de-legitimization for Israel abroad than these acts of legislation," he said, adding that they leave Israel in a position of "a nation on its own shall dwell."
The Kadima faction said it would oppose the bill, with MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) saying that the bill was a "muzzling bill, a bill that harms the basic rights."
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) took things to a personal level, wondering from the podium if Likud faction Chairman MK Zeev Elkin's "past as a shunned schoolboy who got beaten up" prompted him to initiate the bill.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that "the majority of those who oppose the bill, do it in the name of freedom of expression. That begs the question – does freedom of expression in a democratic state includes the right to call for financial boycotts.
"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. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong," he said.
Netanyahu initially wanted to defer the vote, to avoid presenting Israel in a negative light as the Quartet gears to meet for a crucial discussion over the intention of the Palestinian Authority to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians also denounced the bill, saying that if it passes, "the content of an impending Quartet announcement regarding the possible renewal of negotiations will become irrelevant."
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