I’m still reeling from the news yesterday that the Knesset passed the anti-boycott law. It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just Israelis on the left that are outraged by this. In this morning’s Maariv, Ben Caspit, one of Israel’s most prominent and influential columnists, tears into the new law, expressing much anguish — you can read the original Hebrew or a translation. He is not, by any stretch, sympathetic to boycotts, which he calls “childish” and “fairly silly.” Caspit was in fact the first Israeli journalist to publicize the findings of the right-wing group Im Tirzu, which painted an ominous picture of the human rights NGOs operating in Israel. This is no knee-jerk leftie. He’s just shocked about what happened yesterday:
The idea of a boycott law was not born in sin, but the baby itself yesterday emerged into the world as a bad thing. Yes, I too think that Israeli companies that won tenders to build in the Palestinian city of Rawabi on condition that they boycott the settlements should suffer from government sanctions. The government has the tools to do this. And I also think that theaters that receive government funding cannot boycott Ariel. In this matter too, there are tools to handle this. But when this law is also applied to private people, and when the determination as to “what is a boycott” is taken away from the court and given to bureaucrats, and when private citizens can be convicted for voicing their opinion, based on the determination of those bureaucrats and also to sentence them to pay compensation even without proving damage, this is fascism. This is a blatant and a resounding shutting of people’s mouths. This is a thought police. There is no choice but to use this word. Fascism at its worst is raging.
Caspit also accuses Netanyahu of having been pressured into silence by the most right-wing members of his party and coalition, like Likud MK Zeev Elkin, who authored the bill. And he makes clear something that should be fairly obvious: A bill like this can only prove counterproductive.
The Knesset’s legal adviser issued a severe and extraordinary opinion describing this law as being damaging to constitutionality. And even so, the prime minister was not deterred. The pressure of the Elkins defeated him (after, of course, zigzagging two nights ago) and the bill passed. Even though we don’t need this law. The produce of the settlements will not be hurt by a boycott of a few thousand leftists. They have been doing this for a while now and everything is fine. This has no effect. What can hurt us, is a world boycott of Israeli products. The news of this law passing will spread throughout the world like a fire in a field of thorns, and with no supertanker. Our image, already at a low, will continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel. The delegitimization will increase. The damage will be great. Because out there, outside of Israel, they won’t see the difference. Out there they are liable to go with a sweeping boycott, of everything. The Israeli law won’t scare them, it will only spur them on. The main thing is that the guys in the Settlers Council and in the Likud Central Committee should be happy.
Gal Beckerman was a staff writer and then the Forward’s opinion editor until 2014. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Follow Gal on Twitter at @galbeckerman