The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has been widely quoted on our position on Israel’s new internal anti-boycott law, which strongly implied ZOA opposes it. ZOA’s position is much more nuanced than that, especially after fully examining this new Law as we publicly promised to do.
Israel is under existential threat from many countries and peoples around the world, enduring an organized worldwide campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state. Israel is also watching with deep concern as its neighbors are undergoing dramatic change, which could bring even more radical Islamist, anti-Israel, anti-US, and anti-West governments into power.
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We, in America, thankfully do not have to worry about and deal with these kinds of threats. Therefore, the ZOA believes that Jewish organizations should be very careful about telling Israel how to protect its security and economic interests, especially when enemies of Israel and outright anti-Semites are using the words of Jewish organizations that criticize Israel to encourage and promote their own external boycott, de-legitimization and sanction efforts against Israel.
Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin wrote, “…those seeking to implement boycotts are not merely expressing criticism of government policies but are, in fact, waging economic warfare on Israel…Israel’s foes are not, as some in this country falsely assert, merely objecting to its possession of the West Bank and the city of Jerusalem but its very existence.”
Indeed, when other countries have felt these types of substantial threats they have frequently gone so far as to have invoked Martial Law, suspending certain rights that citizens normally enjoyed.
Anti-Israel boycotts immoral
Despite its initial apprehension about the new law, after closely examining it the ZOA now sees that it has eliminated any criminal penalties for boycotting Israeli products or institutions, and allows only civil remedies such as fines and eliminating government funding to violators.
The New Israel Fund has falsely claimed that the bill “criminalizes freedom of speech,” while Gush Shalom falsely stated the law is “a death sentence for the right to freedom of expression.” The anti-boycott law applies to any area under Israeli control. The global BDS movement targets all of Israel, even within the Green Line, and explicitly rejects the existence of Israel within any borders.
Hence, the ZOA is now more sympathetic with the Knesset’s actions even though the law is not perfect. For example, its wording is vague, and therefore could be interpreted to apply to any boycott of an Israeli citizen or anybody for almost any violation and as such could cause a “chilling effect on all boycotts.”
Eli Hertz, a member of ZOA’s national Board, reminded us that even the United States protects Israel from boycotts, and in a stronger way than the Israeli law does. He wrote:
“The Anti-boycott laws under the US Export Administration Act of 1979 (as amended in August 1999) were written specifically to protect Israel from the Arab League and other Moslem countries…On Monday, July 11, 2011 the Knesset passed an Anti-boycott law against those who promote and call to boycott Israel…A look at the US Anti-boycott laws objectives, should be helpful in defending the Israeli law.”
At the end of the day, the ZOA is firmly opposed to boycotting Israeli goods, services, cultural and sporting events anywhere in the world. A boycott against any part of the Jewish state of Israel, a human rights loving democracy, is wrong, immoral, despicable, and frequently anti-Semitic.
The writer is the president of the Zionist Organization of America
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