Israel 2011 - it depends what you are boycotting / Adam Keller

The consumer boycott against the cottage cheese grabbed the headlines and stole the show in the Knesset and the cabinet. Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum praised highly this civic initiative, to boycott "the cheese with the lumps" in protest against the scandalous upsurge in its price so as to pressure the producers and marketing chains to lower the prices. Everybody is talking about the cottage boycott, all support and admire it. Is it conceivable that exactly in these days, somebody in the State of Israel would set out to outlaw the holding of a consumer boycott, and to impose stiff penalties in order to intimidate those who undertake such a boycott?

In fact, it is entirely conceivable. It is happening. A bill with precisely this aim and stated intention has already passed its first Knesset reading, and the Knesset Judicial Committee approved it yesterday towards its second and third reading – the "Boycott Law" (to quote its official name, the "2011 Prohibition of boycott Act").

If getting through all stages of parliamentary approval and becoming part and parcel of the statutes in the State of Israel, this bill would impose a ban on any call for "boycotting a person because of having ties with Israel or with areas under the control of Israel". (If the later reference is not clear, the bill's initiators took care to clarify explicitly that "an area under the control of Israel means Judea and Samaria"). In short, we are talking here about the settlements and the settlers, who produce (heavily subsidized by the state) various items which get to the shelves of shops and supermarkets in Tel Aviv and Haifa and every town and village throughout the country.

As there are in Israel concerned consumers who are not willing to buy cottage cheese at exorbitant price, there are also quite a few of concerned consumers who are unwilling to purchase the products of the settlements. Israeli civilians who reject the settlement outright - as having been established at Occupied Territory, in violation of International Law, as having used questionable legal tricks in order to take over Palestinian land - while blocking any possibility of peace, and perpetuating the occupation which reduces us to moral degradation and international isolation. There are consumers - their number estimated in the tens of thousands – who look carefully while shopping and check where the products offered for sale had been grown or manufactured, and avoid consuming the products of the settlements (which is not always easy - many manufacturers in the settlements resort to all sorts of creative ways to disguise and conceal the source of the product).

For the benefit of such consumers, Gush Shalom (of which I happen to be the spokesperson) publishes since 1997 a detailed list of settlement products entering the Israeli market. With our limited means we try to keep it constantly up to date, and make it known to the general public through the Internet as by manual distribution of brochures at public gatherings.

Should the "Boycott Law" be enacted, such activities on our part might come to be considered illegal, as would be various other activities of peace seekers in Israel (i.e. the refusal of actors to perform in the "Hall of Culture" at the settlement of Ariel). If the "Boycott Law" is enacted, any company located in a settlement could go to court and file a claim for damages; since there are hundreds of such companies, the sum awarded to them by the court might reach many millions.

If this law is passed, consumers in the State of Israel would be able to continue calling for a boycott of any product for any reason which they regard as justified - except for settlement products, which would enjoy absolute immunity. They would be allowed to call for a boycott of products sold at exorbitant price, religious people could continue to boycott non-kosher products, and animal lovers will continue to boycott products tested on animals. Only the settlers, our holy cows, would be immune, and any call for boycotting their products would be illegal.

Would Knesset Members who are so supportive and enthusiastic about the cottage cheese boycott dare to raise their hands in favor of outlawing a consumer boycott of another kind?

[The Hebrew original of this article was published in News1]