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Captain Boycott Rides Again

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We did not call for a boycott of Israel. Quite the contrary, our main aim was to emphasize the difference between Israel proper and the settlements. One of our stickers said: "I Buy Only Products of Israel -- Not the Products of the Settlements!"

While the government did everything possible to erase the Green Line, we aimed at restoring it in the consciousness of the Israeli public.

We also aimed at hurting the settlements economically. The government was working full-time to attract people to the settlements by offering private villas to young couples who could not afford an apartment in Israel proper, and lure local and foreign investors with huge subsidies and tax reductions. The boycott was intended to counteract these inducements.

We were also attracted by the very nature of a boycott: it is democratic and non-violent. Anyone can implement it quietly in their private life, without having to identify himself or herself.

THE GOVERNMENT decided that the best way to minimize the damage was to ignore us. But when our initiative started to find followers abroad, they became alarmed. Especially when the EU decided to implement the provisions of its trade agreement with Israel. This confers large benefits on Israeli exports, but excludes the settlements which are manifestly illegal under international law.

The Knesset reacted furiously and devoted a whole day to the matter. (If I may be allowed another ego-trip: I decided to attend the session. As a former member, I was seated with Rachel in the gallery of honored guests. When a rightist speaker noticed us, he turned around and, in a flagrant breach of parliamentary etiquette, pointed at us and snarled: "There is the Royal Couple of the Left!")

Abroad, too, the boycott was initially aimed at the settlements. But, drawing on the experience of the anti-apartheid struggle, it soon turned into a general boycott of Israel. I do not support this. To my mind, it is counter-productive, since it pushes the general population into the arms of the settlers, under the tired old slogan: "All the world is against us."

The growing dimensions of the various boycotts could no longer be ignored. The Israeli Right decided to act -- and it did so in a very clever way.

It exploited the call to boycott Israel in order to outlaw the call to boycott the settlements, which was the part which really upset it. That is the essence of the law enacted two years ago.

THE LAW does not punish individual boycotters. It punishes everyone who publicly calls for a boycott.

And what punishment! No prison terms, which would have turned us into martyrs. The law says that any individual who feels that they have been hurt by the boycott call can sue the boycott-callers for unlimited damages, without having to prove any damage at all. So can hundreds of others. This way the initiators of a boycott can be condemned to pay millions of shekels.

Not just any boycott. No pork or cottage cheese is involved. Only boycotts aimed against institutions or people connected with the State of Israel or -- here come the three fateful Hebrew words: "a territory ruled by Israel."

Clearly, the whole legal edifice was constructed for these three words. The law does not protect Israel. It protects the settlements. That is its sole purpose.

The dozens of questions rained down on our lawyers concerned mainly this point.

Would we be satisfied with striking out these three words? (Good question. Of course we would. But we could not say so, because our main argument was that the law restricts freedom of speech. That applies to the law as a whole.)

Would we have opposed a law directed against the Arab Boycott maintained against Israel during its early years? (The circumstances were completely different.)

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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