Vote set on Israeli settlement boycott bill

AP News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2011 2:58 PM
Vote set on Israeli settlement boycott bill

Israeli backers of a bill that would punish people for boycotting West Bank settlements said Sunday they will push forward with the proposal, despite accusations that it's an undemocractic slap at freedom of speech.

In recent years, settlement opponents in Israel have joined boycotts of products made in the settlements. The Palestinians and most of the international community say settlements are illegal because they are built on war-won land. The Palestinians want the West Bank for their future state.

The local initiatives have angered settlers and their powerful political patrons.

The bill stipulates that any Israeli individual or organization that sponsors a "geographically based boycott" could be sued for damages in a civil court by the party injured in the boycott call.

A final vote was set for Monday, but legislator Yohanan Plesner, an opponent of the bill, said he asked the parliament's legal adviser to delay it and would receive an answer Monday morning.

The bill is the latest effort of mostly hawkish Israeli circles to restrict domestic dissent. For example, some hard-line lawmakers called for a cutoff of state funds to theaters whose actors refused to appear in settlements.

Dovish sectors of Israeli society denounce such moves as anti-democratic.

Supporters say the bill is meant to counter perceived attempts to delegitimize Israel.

"The state of Israel has for years been dealing with boycotts from Arab nations, but now we are talking about a homegrown boycott," said the bill's author, Likud lawmaker Zeev Elkin, referring to local efforts to avoid settlements and their products.

"It is time to put an end to this travesty," he said. "If the state of Israel does not protect itself, we will have no moral right to ask our allies for protection from such boycotts."

Several Israeli artists and academics have called on colleagues to ban institutions in the West Bank. Also a group of Israeli developers signed on to help build the first modern Palestinian city in the West Bank, only after agreeing not to use products or services from Israeli settlements.

That angered Jewish settlers and sparked the drafting of the bill. About 300,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the Israeli Justice Ministry Sunday holding banners that read, "The Boycott Law Boycotts Democracy."

Plesner, an opposition lawmaker from the Kadima party, said the contentious bill would put restraints on freedom of speech and would do Israel more harm than good.

"The bill provides ammunition to those who falsely try to portray us as an apartheid state and undermines our strongest argument against that _ our vibrant and liberal democracy that allows full freedom of expression to the political opinions of different groups," he said.