Israels anti-boycott bill a blow to democracy

If we were to count how often the far-right Zionist Organization of America and far-left Jewish Voice for Peace agreed on something, we’d probably come up with a big zero. Until now.

Both groups agree, as do the Anti-Defamation League and scores of Jewish institutions, that the anti-boycott bill passed in the Knesset this week is bad for Israeli democracy.

That new law allows Israeli citizens to sue those calling for cultural, economic or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank.

The insidious implications against free speech here couldn’t be more self-evident. Merely expressing support for a boycott of, say, Israeli products produced in West Bank settlements, whether said boycott ever takes place or causes financial harm to Israelis, could result in fines and/or imprisonment.

Simply put, this is undemocratic, un-Israeli and un-Jewish.

To be fair, we sympathize with Israelis who have grown alarmed over the growing worldwide effort to promote BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against the Jewish state.

This menacing tactic, which has gathered more steam in Europe than in the United States, could indeed cause economic harm to Israel, and must be crushed.

Yet this new law does nothing to slow BDS campaigns from outside Israel, and will likely spur them while giving Israel’s enemies new ammunition to denigrate the country.

Israel has no better friend than Abraham Foxman of the ADL, yet he, too, has blasted the new law, branding it “a disservice to Israeli society” and calling for the Israeli Supreme Court to look into it.

Condemnation of the law has been just as strong inside Israel.

Ben Caspit, a centrist columnist for Ma’ariv newspaper, labeled the law “fascism,” as did influential Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston, who characterized its passage as a “tipping point” that “changed the history of the State of Israel.”

There are times when diaspora Jewry must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as a bulwark against those that would tear down the Jewish state. There are other times when we must similarly stand as one and criticize certain actions taken by our beloved Israel.

This is just such a time. We all take pride in Israel’s standing as the only democracy in the Middle East. We are honor-bound to make sure it remains so. Let us continue to speak out, and hope the Israeli Supreme Court swiftly strikes down the law.