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Who is annexing Whom?

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IN A rare late-night session, the Knesset has finally adopted two obnoxious racist laws. Both are clearly directed against Israel's Arab citizens, a fifth of the population.

The first makes it possible to annul the citizenship of persons found guilty of offenses against the security of the state. Israel prides itself on having a great variety of such laws. Annulling citizenship on such grounds is contrary to international law and conventions.

The second is more sophisticated. It allows communities of less than 400 families to appoint "admission committees" which can prevent unsuitable persons from living there. Very shrewdly, it specifically forbids the rejection of candidates because of race, religion etc. -- but that paragraph is tantamount to a wink. An Arab applicant will simply be rejected because of his many children or lack of military service.

A majority of members did not bother to show up for the vote. After all, it was late and they have families, too. Who knows, some may even have been ashamed to vote.

But far worse is a third law that is certain to pass its final stages within a few weeks: the law to outlaw the boycott of the settlements.

SINCE ITS early stages, the original crude text of this bill has been refined somewhat.

As it stands now, the law will punish any person or association publicly calling for a boycott of Israel -- economic, academic or cultural. "Israel," according to this law, means any Israeli enterprise or person, in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel. Simply put: it is all about the settlements. And not only about the boycott of the products of the settlements, which was initiated by Gush Shalom some 13 years ago, but also about the recent refusal of actors to perform in the settlement of Ariel and the call by academics not to support the so-called University Center there. It also applies, of course, to any call for the boycott of an Israeli university or an Israeli commercial enterprise.

This is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation: it is anti-democratic, discriminatory, annexationist, and altogether unconstitutional.

EVERYBODY has the right to buy or not to buy whatever he or she desires, from whomever he or she chooses. That is so obvious that it needs no confirmation. It is a part of the right to free expression guaranteed by any constitution worth its salt, and an essential element of a free market economy.

I may buy from the store on the corner, because I like the owner, and shun the supermarket opposite, which exploits its employees. Companies expend huge sums of money to convince me to buy their products rather than others.

What about ideologically motivated campaigns? Years ago, while on a visit to New York, I was persuaded not to buy grapes produced in California, because the owners oppressed the Mexican migrant workers. This boycott went on for a long time and was -- if I remember right -- successful. Nobody dared to suggest that such boycotts should be outlawed.

Here in Israel, rabbis of many communities regularly paste up posters calling upon their flock not to buy at certain shops, which they believe are not kosher, or not kosher enough. Such calls are commonplace.

Such publications are fully compatible with human rights. Citizens for whom pork is an abomination, have the right to be informed about which shops sell pork and which do not. As far as I know, no one in Israel has ever contested this right.

Sooner or later, some anti-religious groups will publish calls to boycott kosher shops, which pay the rabbis - some of them the most intolerant of their kind -- heavy levies for their certificates. They support a vast religious establishment that openly advocates turning Israel into a "Halakha state" -- the Jewish equivalent of a Muslim "Shari'a state." Many thousands of Kashrut supervisors and myriads of other religious functionaries are paid for by the largely secular public.

So what about an anti-rabbinical boycott? It can hardly be forbidden, since religious and anti-religious are guaranteed equal rights.

SO IT appears that not all ideologically motivated boycotts are wrong. Nor do the initiators of this particular bill -- racists of the Lieberman school, Likud rightists and Kadima "centrists" -- claim this. For them, boycotts are only wrong if they are directed against the nationalist, annexationist policies of this government.

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Gush

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