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Knesset adopts bill sanctioning boycotters

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset voted to adopt a bill that would sanction individuals or organizations calling for a boycott of Israel or its settlements.

Lawmakers adopted the measure Monday night by a vote of 47 to 38 following a session that lasted six hours.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly had asked lawmakers on Sunday evening to delay the vote on the controversial bill, saying that it could embarrass Israel as the Mideast Quartet opened a meeting in Washington over the Palestinian Authority’s intention to file a request with the United Nations at the end of the week seeking recognition of a Palestinian state.

On Monday morning, however, the Prime Minister’s Office said it would not stop readings on the bill. Netanyahu was not present for the vote.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon told the plenum Monday that the bill is "borderline illegal" since it could violate freedom of political expression.

The bill, initiated by Likud lawmaker and ruling coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, also would allow for civil lawsuits against individuals and groups calling for anti-Israel boycotts, and would force the government to stop doing business with companies that comply with those boycotts.

The proposed law came after Israeli artists called for a boycott of a new cultural center in the West Bank city of Ariel, and academics called for a boycott of academic institutions in the West Bank. An Israeli construction company was hired to build a new Palestinian city in the West Bank after it agreed not to use products from the settlements. 

Israeli civil rights groups have been working to quash the bill and are threatening to challenge it before Israel’s Supreme Court.

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