Some time ago, the right-wing Knesset majority enacted the "Boycott Law" making it possible to file a civil suit and demand heavy compensation from anyone calling for a boycott of Israel - and incidentally, also call for a boycott of the settlements was declared to be “a form of boycotting Israel”. A more recent law empowers Israel’s border control officials to deny entry to all foreign nationals calling for a boycott of Israel - and again, there was added the stipulation that also a call to boycott the settlements counts as such. There were further measures in the same direction, for example the Minister of Culture threatening to cut funding to theaters which would refuse to perform in settlements. Still, the call for a boycott does not constitute (as of now…) a criminal offense under Israeli law.
Thus, police last week briefly detained the veteran activist Jeff Halper on the suspicion of spreading BDS material – and had to release him in confusion, when it emerged that a call for boycott – either a settlement boycott or a comprehensive boycott of Israel - does not constitute a violation of any law of the State of Israel.
In the same context, Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) managed to obtain a written confirmation from the Israel Police, stating explicitly that there is no criminal offense in calling for a boycott. Therefore, the Judea and Samaria Police District will not conduct any investigation of the complaint lodged by the extreme-right “Im Tirzu” group against Gush Shalom, since the complaint did not point to any "criminal culpability." The complaint in question was filed last November by Ram Frangi, head of the “Im Tirzu” student group at the settlers’ Ariel University, and it was filed by the police under serial number 516101/2016. Frangi had asserted that Gush Shalom had called for a boycott of Ariel University, and that this constituted a violation of the "Boycott Law", and therefore asked the police to open a criminal investigation.
The complaint against Gush Shalom was published in several settler and extreme right news websites, but Gush Shalom did not get any invitation for interrogation, nor was anything at all heard from the police themselves. Therefore, Gush Shalom approached the police via Att. Limor Wolf of the Gaby Lasky Law Office, and asked them to clarify where things stand. It took several months since the “Im Tirzu” complaint before the Gush Shalom attorneys finally obtained an official written reply from Superintendent Moti Shushan, of the Public Affairs Office of the Judea and Samaria Police Ddistrict. The letter confirmed that the police had not opened any investigation, since the “Im Tirzu” complaint had not provided any prima facie evidence of “an act bearing criminal culpability".
The whole affair started when settler University of Ariel held an international academic conference entitled “Modern Jewish Existence in a World of Threats and Hostility”. Gush Shalom spokesperson Adam Keller sent letters to lecturers and researchers from abroad (mostly from Eastern Europe) who were invited to participate in this conference. In his letters to the foreign academics, Keller noted that “The University of Ariel, like any other institute founded with the stated purpose of promoting academic learning and scientific knowledge, is obliged to keep and maintain standards of factual accuracy in its publications. Yet the conference program, in which your name and intended lecture appears, includes a glaring factual mistake – i.e., the location of the conference is given as ‘Ariel, Israel’.
“That designation is obviously and manifestly wrong. The University of Ariel is not located in the territory of the State of Israel. Rather, it is located at a settlement enclave erected in the territory which Israel has conquered in 1967, which Israel holds under military rule over the past fifty years, and which Israel had never annexed. Not a single country in the world recognizes the territory in which Ariel is located as being part of Israel. More than that: the State of Israel itself, never having annexed it, does not recognize Ariel and the territory around it as being part of Israel.
“It is important for you to know that by participating in this conference you would not only be taking part in academic activity, imparting from your knowledge and expertise to a much-needed discussion on the situation and future of the Jewish People. By participating in this conference you would also be taking a major political action. Whether or not you are aware of it, by taking part in a conference at the Ariel University, under the false heading “Ariel, Israel”, you would be taking sides in a hot political controversy. Indeed, you would be taking sides on the issue most deeply debated between Israel and the International Community, between Israel and the Palestinians. It is also the issue most hotly debated between the political factions and parties inside the Israeli society itself.
“As a person devoted to academic probity and precision, you should not act without being in possession of full information.“
Dr. Edyta Gawron, an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Jewish Studies in the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland, informed Gush Shalom that she had canceled her participation at the conference and asked the Ariel University to remove her name from the program. "Dr. Gawron is a renowned academic, teaching at one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe "says Keller. "She had decided to devote her life to the study of Jewish history and culture in Poland and does not hesitate to also uncover dark pages in the history of her own country. When she realized the political implications repercussions of attending a conference at a university located in a settlement enclave in Occupied Territory, she chose not to go there. It was her personal decision, as a thinker endowed with integrity and conscience. This is the background to the police complaint filed against us by ‘Im Tirzu’ - a complaint proved groundless. "
According to the legal advice which "Gush Shalom" got, the text of the "Boycott Law" does leave “Im Tirzu” the option of filing a civil suit rather than a criminal complaint. "Of course, this would require them to work much harder. Instead of a snap visit to the police and filing a frivolous complaint, followed by sending an inflammatory press release to their friendly extreme right news websites, they would have to hire a lawyer and try to formulate a serious case against us which would stand a judicial review," says Keller. "They should think twice before entering into such an enterprise. If it gets to court, we will just produce as evidence the letter in question. We have written to the foreign academics that ‘Israeli law sets out a very specific juridical procedure which needs to be undertaken in order to apply Israeli law and sovereignty. To achieve that, the government of Israel must submit an Annexation Bill to the Knesset (Parliament), and it must be approved in three readings; then and only then does the territory in question become part of Israel under Israel’s own law. It is an undisputed fact that none of the governments which ruled Israel since 1967 has seen fit to apply this procedure to the territory where Ariel is located, variously named “The West Bank” or “Judea and Samaria”. That territory was and remains an Occupied Territory under International Law. To the contrary, all Israeli governments since 1967 – including the present one, under Mr. Netanyahu – have repeatedly reiterated that under some circumstances they might relinquish Israeli rule over that territory. The designation Ariel, Israel is a factual error – of which the university administration must be well aware’. All of that is manifestly true – and thus, we have done nothing more than make the foreign academics aware of the true situation”.