Israel's High Court unfroze controversial legislation Wednesday that allows legal action against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS advocates argue the international community should boycott companies that profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. The occupation is illegal under international law.
Modeled on the anti-apartheid boycott directed at South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the BDS movement argues its boycott aims to economically pressure Israel to roll back its occupation.
Legislation aimed at banning BDS was passed by the Knesset four years ago, but was almost immediately challenged by human rights groups. Opponents of the Anti-Boycott Law argued before the High Court that imposing penalties on groups that support BDS would undermine freedom of expression.
However, the High Court ruled boycotts are not a legitimate form of free expression. Writing for the majority of judges, Justice Hanan Meltzer ruled that advocacy of a boycott of settlement products constitutes “political terrorism.”
Under the Anti-Boycott Law, supporters of BDS, such as human rights groups, can be sued by the businesses they target. The original law included a section allowing businesses to sue for punitive damages, though that was struck down by the court. Instead, plaintiffs will need to prove they have already suffered damages.
When the law was first passed, a number of left-leaning Israeli publications and civil rights groups that support BDS announced they would self-censor to avoid being sued.
One publication that temporarily gagged itself was the progressive magazine +972, which supports BDS.
Shortly after the High Court announced the Anti-Boycott Law would come into effect, +972 published an article by Noam Sheizaf that argued, “Boycotts are a nonviolent tool in this political battle, and therefore is among the most legitimate forms of opposition.”
Sheizaf argued the verdict is part of broader efforts to stifle domestic dissent against Israel's occupation of Palestine.
“The occupation has poisoned every Israeli institution, one after the other. Universities are offering courses in propaganda (“hasbara”) while distancing themselves from “anti-Israeli” content, the media is applying more and more self-censorship, and the High Court is going places no Western democracy has been,” Sheizaf wrote.
“Israel is changing its own internal code of conduct, all for the sake of maintaining its control over the Palestinians,” he said.