Thursday, August 22, 2013

Settlement boycott on the Supreme Court Agenda

The following article appeared on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, in the op-ed section of the Jerusalem Post

Israeli settlement on the West Bank, always a hot issue, seems to have heated up even more in recent weeks. The Netanyahu government’s decision to authorize 1,200 new housing units precipitated a predictable crisis in the just-resumed talks with the Palestinians. And since the European Union put down a collective foot, no Israeli academic institute located or active in a settlement would be eligible to get European grants. Should the government of Israel fail to provide a written acknowledgement of these terms, all of our country’s universities and research institutes stand to lose hundreds of millions of euros in grants, a considerable blow to Israeli science and academia.

Meanwhile, the same issue is soon due to figure prominently on the agenda from a different angle – as a weighty matter of Israeli law. The Supreme Court secretariat informed various appellants and litigants that on February 16, 2014, a special ninejudge panel headed by Supreme Court president Asher Grunis will deliberate on the constitutionality of the socalled “Boycott Law,” and will address the key question: Is the act of boycotting the settlements located in the territories of “Judea and Samaria” tantamount to “boycotting Israel,” to be punished as such? Undoubtedly, the initiators of the Boycott Law – enacted late at night, at the end of a stormy Knesset debate on July 11, 2011 – meant this question to be answered with a very strong affirmative.

Some of these initiators explicitly stated that they were particularly targeting the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) movement (of which I happen to be a member).

Already in the 1990s, Gush Shalom has compiled and published – and constantly updated – a list of settlement products reaching the shelves of Israeli supermarkets, calling upon consumers to avoid purchasing such products. Quite naturally, if you consider settlements in the Occupied Territories to a be major impediment to peace with the Palestinians and/or a gross violation of international law (and many Israeli citizens do), you should take care not to help finance the same settlements with your shopping.

Under the Boycott Law, continuing the above campaign might have exposed Gush Shalom to hundreds of tort actions by settlement-based corporations, resulting in a far from affluent movement having to pay many millions in damages and being effectively wiped out.

On the very morning after it was enacted, advocate Gaby Laski went to the Supreme Court to present Gush Shalom’s appeal, arguing that this law constituted an unacceptable violation of freedom of speech and of political action in Israel. Also, that it was a gross discrimination, as any other civil boycott action remains completely legal under Israeli law, and the settlements alone are granted immunity.

Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate regularly points out restaurants and shops which are unkosher and calls upon observant Jews not to go there. Such rabbinical boycott calls are not only legal but are even financed (lavishly) by the Israeli taxpayer.

The appeal had been dragging on for the past two years. The state attorney’s bureau had tried various delaying tactics. It is well known that they were far from happy with this law to begin with, and had tried in vain to dissuade the right-wing MKs from enacting it. Meanwhile, a considerable number of other appellants joined in and lodged their own appeals against this law: The Civil Rights Association (ACRI), Yesh Din, Adalah, the Women’s Coalition for Peace, The Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, MK Ahmed Tibi, The Arab Monitoring Committee and many others.

Soon, the time for delay will be over and Israel’s Supreme Court – which assigns three judges to rule on more routine issues, and assigns a panel of nine only to particularly significant and crucial cases – will deliberate and make a ruling. It would have many implications, both for civil liberties inside Israel and for the ever more thorny issue of the settlements.