Israeli Legislature Sparks Discussion On Free Speech With 'Boycott Law'

Jul 11, 2011

Israel's Knesset, the country's unicameral legislature, passed a controversial law that has sparked heated discussion about what it means for free speech in the country.

With a 47-38 vote, today, the Knesset passed into a law a bill that will make it a civil penalty to call for a boycott on Israel or its settlements. The bill allows any person to sue another for declaring a boycott. The bill would also strip any business calling or participating in a boycott against Israel of any government funds.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Ze'ev Elkin, who proposed the bill, said the law protects Israel.

"This bill defends the State of Israel," Elkin told the Post. "We have no right to ask our allies to do the same, if an Israeli citizen can do as he wishes."

But the opposition has been vocal and used harsh terms to describe the new law. Here's a sampling taken from reports of the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz:

-- MK Ilan Gilon said: "We are dealing with a legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here."

-- MK Hanna Sweid said: "This is the government of Senator McCarthy, but with kippas."

-- MK Nitzan Horowitz said: "Right-wing MKs are bringing garbage to the Knesset under the guise of wanting to protect our national honor. This is a nauseating bill."

Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the vote, but his administration decided not to block a vote on the bill, late last night. Haaretz also reports that the Knesset's legal advisor Eyal Yanon said that the law "damages the core of freedom of expression in Israel," but that the country's attorney general said the bill is legal.

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