Updated Dec. 5, 2012
Such an event does not occur every day at the halls of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. A year and a half ago, the right-wing majority in the Knesset passed the "Boycott Law" which claims to be a law against boycotting Israel, but in fact defines boycotting of the settlements as a “boycott of Israel.” The net result is to prohibit Israeli citizens from calling for a boycott of products made in settlements, but does not prohibit any other boycott call. It is perfectly OK to call for a consumer boycott, or organize a boycott due to religious dietary laws or working conditions or vegetarianism and care for animals. Israeli law does not even have any ban on outright racist boycotts, specifically targeting members of an ethnic group. Boycotts of all kinds and types are allowed. The sole exception is when Israeli citizens call for a boycott of products originating in the settlements - settlements in Occupied Territory, created in violation of International Law with the declared aim of preventing the Palestinians from establishing a state. Making such a call exposes one to heavy damage claims by settlers and their supporters.
Several appeals have been filed against this law. By Gush Shalom of which I am the spokesperson, by Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi, by the Civil Rights Association and Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights and Coalition of Women for Peace and the the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, and many other organizations and individuals. The Supreme Court judges were not quick to pick up this hot potato. It took them a year and a half to set a preliminary hearing, which was held this week.
The petitioners' attorneys spoke out, one by one, telling the judges that this is a manifestly unconstitutional and anti-democratic law, seriously violating Israeli citizens' freedom of expression and of political organization. Then it was the turn of the Knesset's legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yinon, to face the judges, make a reply and defend the law enacted by his client, the Knesset of Israel. Only, there was one small hitch: Eyal Yinon himself opposes this piece of legislation, and like the petitioners he regards it as unconstitutional and anti-democratic.
"Before the bill was voted in, I spoke at length several times with the Knesset Members who initiated it. So did the other legal advisers, the Attorney General's representative the legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry and the one for the Ministry of Trade and Industry. We all made them aware of how problematic the bill was, we did our best to make it fit into a proper constitutional frameworks. However, our opinions are not binding on the Members of the Knesset, they passed it into law by majority vote. The court here has the authority to overrule them, legal advisors do not."
And the bottom line: "In the meantime, I serve as the legal counsel of the Knesset. I am duty bound to represent the Knesset and defend to the best of my ability the binding resolutions taken by the Knesset majority". The Legal Adviser's dilemma did notso much impress the three judges on the panel. "Actually, you were sent here without ammunition," remarked Justice Salim Joubran. Not that Joubran himself and his colleagues seem in a hurry to render their decision on this loaded issue? Maybe next week, maybe only in a year or two. There is no obligatory time frame.
[Dec. 4 press release]
"Boycotting settlement products is a democratic right and a legitimate expression of political views, which should not be outlawedץ
Dec. 5, 2012 - The Supreme Court in Jerusalem is hearing the appeal filed by Gush Shalom against the "Boycott Law" which prohibits calling for a boycott of settlement products. The panel is headed by Asher Grunis, President of the Supreme Court, and also include his colleagues Salim Jubran and Esther Hayut.
Gush Shalom is represented by the attorneys Gaby Lasky, Neri Ramati and Limor Goldstein. They will ask the court to issue an order nisi, freeze the application of the law and preventing lawsuits against those calling for a boycott of the settlements, pending the end of the proceedings. They will also seek to transfer the appeal to a broader panel of judges, due to the basic constitutional issues involved.
The "Boycott Law", passed in the Knesset a year and a half ago, allows the settlers and their supporters to file heavy claims for damages against anyone making a call for a boycott of settlement products. Likud Knesset Member Ze'ev Elkin presented this law as one of his main parliamentary achievements, in a propaganda disseminated recently during in the Likud primaries. In practice, however, not a single such damage claim has as yet been filed.
The Gush Shalom movement made a public call for a boycott of settlement products some ten years ago, and has published a detailed list of settlement products which its activists kept updating. At the time, settler leaders and right-wing Knesset Members made harsh statements against Gush Shalom.
And precisely after the law was passed in the Knesset, other groups made high profile calls for boycott of the settlements, including "Peace Now" which set up a Facebook page entitled "Prosecute me, I boycott settlement products." Also peace activist Naftali Raz, editor of the online news site "On the Left Side" organized a petition signed by hundreds of people, making an explicit call to boycott settlement products. However, so far the settlers and their supporters did not take up the gauntlet.
"It's probably not by chance that they do not start proceedings under this law, and neglect to go through the legal doors thrown wide open for them. They probably realize that attempting to attack peace activists through their pockets will work against them, and that even if they won in court they would lose in the court of public opinion," says Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson. "Nevertheless, this stain of anti-democratic legislation, violating the freedom of expression and of political activity, should be removed from the law books of the State of Israel. Individuals and organizations who consider the settlements to be illegal and immoral, constituting a serious threat to our future, have the right not to finance these settlements by buying their products. Those who wish to avoid buying settlement products are also entitled to do so in public and in an organized way."
Keller added: "The boycott law created a situation of intolerable discrimination in Israeli law. Everybody may boycott anybody else – anybody but the settlers, who have immunity. It is allowed to boycott cottage cheese and other consumer goods in order to pressure producers to reduce their prices; such a boycott is praised - and rightly so - as an expression of civic involvement. Vegetarians and animal lovers may boycott fur or restaurants which serve meat, and observant Jews may boycott anyone who sells non-kosher food. Not only is this last permitted, but the Chief Rabbinate and City Rabbinates make generous use of public funds to run ads, publishing the names and addresses of shops and restaurants and urging the public not to go there – with the express purpose of hurting the livelihood of the owners and force them to follow every dictate of the religious establishment. Boycotts of all types and kinds are allowed by law - except for advocating a boycott of the settlements. We hope that the Court is will declare this blatant discrimination an unacceptable undermining of the foundations of democracy. "
"This court session, on a date set a long time ago, takes place just as the settlements issue gets to the top headlines, not only in Israel but throughout the world. Right now, this issue causes a serious diplomatic crisis between Israel and the European countries of whose support Netanyahu boasted just two weeks ago. Since 1967, the issue of the settlements determinee to a great degree whether we will live in peace or at war, and in that also defining the conditions for any socio-economic policy, and what resources would be available for this."
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson 054-2340749
Adv. Gaby Lasky 054-4418988
Adv. Nery Ramati 050-8648854