Netanyahu defends anti-boycott law

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s new anti-boycott law from criticism that it damages Israel’s image and is anti-democratic.

"What stains (Israel’s) image are those savage and irresponsible attacks on a democracy’s attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not," he told the Knesset on Wednesday, according to Haaretz.

The law allows for monetary sanctions against those who encourage boycotts against Israel or areas it controls, such as West Bank settlements. The bill would allow those damaged by boycotts to sue those who advocate such measures.

Netanyahu, who was absent Monday night when the Knesset approved the law by a vote of 45 to 38, expressed his firm support for the law.

"Don’t be confused – I authorized the bill. If I hadn’t authorized it, it wouldn’t have gotten here," Netanyahu said, according to The Jerusalem Post. "I am opposed to boycotts against Israel and boycotts against groups within Israel. I oppose boycotts of Arabs, of haredi people and of any citizens of Israel."

The leader of the opposition Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, blasted Netanyahu during the Knesset session, which was called by her party. "You are leading Isreal into the abyss," she said, according to Haaretz.

A variety of left-wing NGOs and civil rights groups are pursuing efforts to get the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the anti-boycott law. NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel watchdog group criticial of left-wing NGOs, also expressed concern about the new law.

Leaders of a number of American Jewish groups also have criticized the law as an abridgement of freedom of expression.

"The anti-boycott law is undemocratic," the American Jewish Committee said in a statement Wednesday. "It ironically has already harmed, rather than helped, our community’s overall efforts to defeat those groups who challenge Israel’s legitimacy."

On the right, the Zionist Organization of America said it opposes such laws in principle. On the left, Jewish Voice for Peace, which has sponsored and supported targeted boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns, called the law "anti-democratic." Other U.S. groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, Ameinu and the New Israel Fund have also come out against the law.

A spokesperson for the European Union’s foreign policy chief also raised concerns about the new law on Wednesday.

"The EU recognizes Israel’s sovereignty in the legislative process. Furthermore, the EU does not advocate boycotts," the spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief, said in a statement. "However, as part of such fundamental values as free expression and speech that the EU cherishes and shares with Israel, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation may have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations to express non-violent political opinions."

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