Demanding equality – how is that illegal?

If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement.

A number of European countries are expressing outrage with Israel's latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area [EPA]

Israeli NGOs have appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel to strike down the July 2011 law for its violations of freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, political expression and the right to organise. The hearing in the West Jerusalem court took place last Wednesday, on December 5, and the court’s decision will be published in the coming days. There is lot of skepticism regarding a sensible outcome among boycott activists.

From the moral perspective, the Israeli Supreme Court is a significant vehicle of Israeli occupation and apartheid. It is this court which consistently refuses to deal with Israeli violations of international law while at the same time allowing for the continuation of the ethnic cleansing process both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel proper.

This process of driving away the native people of the land, which started by sheer force during the creation of the state, is nowadays being carried out by legal means and under the guise of the law. Such is the situation in occupied East Jerusalem and in the unrecognised villages of the Naqab (Negev) desert.

The court has also repeatedly defended the illegal siege of Gaza and the criminal policies which are responsible for counting the caloric intake of the civilians of Gaza, and the fact that 95 per cent of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption.

Consequently, appealing to a court that has legalised torture and euphemisms in the past – making Israel the only country in the world to have legalised the practice – is not to be taken lightly.

On the practical level, the appeal may very well have the opposite effect than the one intended. As has happened in the past, the court may invalidate certain clauses of the law while reaffirming the rest; therefore stamping a revised version of the law with a seal of approval.

Affected by Israeli policies

Most importantly, speaking as an Israeli-Jewish boycott activist who is working to end Israeli apartheid, the law actually serves our struggle. There is a long list of discriminatory laws against non-Jews in Israel or those affected by Israeli policies. 

Many of these laws were passed during the early days of the state following the forced ethnic cleansing that was meant to create an artificial Jewish majority on that land. Such racist laws were put in place to maintain, as well as institutionalise, that crime.

Then came the military occupation of 1967 which introduced a whole slew of repressive military laws aimed specifically against the Palestinians under occupation. Military tribunals, with a whopping 99.7 per cent conviction rate, still stand to this day.

In that sense, the anti-boycott law is nothing out of the ordinary. It is only different in one respect – that the target audience includes the privileged group under Israeli apartheid.

That is why the anti-boycott law received such a backlash when it was legislated last year, with harsh criticism coming from even staunch Israel defenders like AIPAC. That day, Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens which endorses and supports the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) call, issued a statement titled “We Will Not Be Silent”

In the statement, we reiterate our commitment to the struggle for the three fundamental rights of the Palestinians – right of return, equal rights within Israel and freedom from occupation – as well as to holding Israel accountable for its actions.

The law is in fact a sign of success showing the effectiveness of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led campaign which has managed to gain worldwide recognition and has become a global awareness movement, taking inspiration from the successful global anti-apartheid struggle directed against the South African regime.

Such acts of legislation by the Israeli regime only serve to expose the true face of the “Jewish-Democratic” state while garnering support from the global community as well as from world-renowned figures.

Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws. It is not an “anti-democratic” or an “anti-constitutional” law as many would like us to believe, for the simple reason that the state is not a democracy and has no constitution.

The state, in fact, at its very core, is opposed to democratic values such as equality and the rights of minorities. A constitution would not serve as it opposes respecting the rights of all. For that purpose, the state defines me as belonging to the “Jewish” nationality, seeking to give privileges to a select ethnic group over those disenfranchised. If there existed an “Israeli” nationality it would, in theory, not be possible to legally differentiate between citizens.

Given Israeli violations of international law, the absolute disrespect of universally recognised human rights and the public outcry against such violations from people all over the world, the question emerges of how governments can carry on with business as usual toward Israel.

Israeli anti-boycott legislation

The Israeli anti-boycott legislation, which is meant to stifle any attempt to hold it accountable for its violations of international law, is a serious matter. Consequently, it is worrisome that several European governments have recently attempted to protect Israel from holding it legally accountable by conditioning their vote at the UN on denying recourse for Palestinians in front of the International Criminal Court, where they may have access to the protection of international law. 

“Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws.”

Since then, however, we are now hearing new voices emerging from a number of European countries. They are expressing outrage with Israel’s latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area.

Such voices, which may be the first signs of change, threaten to recall ambassadors in Israel and even mention the possibility of sanctioning or freezing previous trade agreements with Israel.

Such policy actions would mean more than mere criticism of Israeli expansionism. One example of the ongoing complicity of all EU member states can be found in the EU-Israel Association Agreement itself, which carries a binding clause, article 2 of the agreement, stating that: “Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, …and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement”. 

The legally binding nature of this clause is thoroughly explained in a report by Professor Takis Tridimas claiming that the European governments are obligated to freeze the agreement according to EC laws and regulations, in addition to their other obligations imposed by international law.

Roger Waters, who acted on the jury of the fourth Russell Tribunal on Palestine, recently addressed the UN General Assembly to discuss the findings of the tribunal which concluded that Israel is guilty of a long list of violations of international law, including that of the crime of apartheid.

Waters also discussed the necessity of a change taking place among international bodies, including the UN itself, in order for such organisations to maintain their legitimacy and be able to sincerely represent the will of the people.

If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement. It will then be incumbent upon the governments of the world to realise what many of their citizens long ago understood – that it is not only legitimate to get on board the BDS train, but it is also expected of them to stand shoulder to shoulder with those of us who are struggling for equality, freedom and justice for all.

Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli human rights activist, conscientious objector and co-founder of Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens and residents which supports the Palestinian call for BDS. In 2010, he represented the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee at the European Parliament, promoting the rights of human rights defenders as well as stressing the importance of holding Israel accountable for its actions. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ronnie_barkan