February 22, 2014
Captain Boycott Rides Again
IT HAS always been a secret ambition of mine to have a bagatz ruling bearing my name.
Bagatz is the Hebrew acronym for “High Court of Justice”, the Israeli equivalent of a constitutional court. It plays a very important role in Israeli public life.
Having a ground-breaking Supreme Court decision named after you confers a kind of immortality. Long after you are gone, lawyers quote your case and refer to the judgment.
Take Roe v. Wade, for example. Whenever abortion is debated in the
A few hours after the law was passed, Gush Shalom and I personally submitted to the court our application to annul it. We had prepared our legal arguments well in advance. That’s why it bears my name. The applicants rather disrespectfully called “Others” are about a dozen human rights organizations, both Jewish and Arab, who joined us.
After this ego-trip, let’s get to the point.
THE COURT session was rather unusual. Instead of the three justices who normally deal with such applications, this time nine judges - almost the full complement of the court - were seated at the table. Almost a dozen lawyers argued for the two sides. Among them was our own Gabi Lasky, who opened the case for the applicants.
The judges were no passive listeners fighting boredom, as they usually are. All nine judges intervened constantly, asking questions, interjecting provocative remarks. They were clearly very interested.
The law does not outlaw boycotts as such. The original Captain Charles Boycott would not have been involved.
Boycott was an agent of an absentee landlord in
By now, of course, a boycott means a lot more than ostracizing an individual. It is a major instrument of protest, intended to hurt the object both morally and economically, much like an industrial strike.
Until it reached the settlements.
IN 1997 Gush Shalom, the movement to which I belong, declared the first boycott of the settlements. We called upon Israelis to abstain from buying goods produced by settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This caused hardly a stir. When we called a press conference, not a single Israeli journalist attended – something I have never experienced before or since.
To facilitate the action, we published a list of the enterprises located in the settlements. Much to our surprise, tens of thousands of consumers asked for the list. That’s how the ball started rolling.
We did not call for a boycott of
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 couple who could not afford an apartment in
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
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
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
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
Clearly, the whole legal edifice was constructed for these three words.
The law does not protect
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
Do we oppose the freedom of speech of rabbis who prohibit the leasing of apartments to Arab citizens? (That is not a boycott, but crass discrimination.)
After hours of debate, the court adjourned. Judgment will be given at some undefined date. Probably there will be a majority and several minority decisions.
Will the court dare to strike out a law of the Knesset? That would demand real courage. I would not be surprised if the majority decide to leave the law as it is, but strike out the words concerning the settlements.
Otherwise, it will be another step towards turning
There are examples for this in history. The eminent British historian Arnold
Toynbee – a favorite of mine – once composed a list of countries which were
taken over by the inhabitants of their border regions, who as a rule are hardier
and more fanatical than the spoiled inhabitants of the center. For example, the
Prussians, then the inhabitants of a remote border region, took over half of
WHATEVER THE outcome, the decision in the case of “Uri Avnery and Others v. the
Some satisfaction, at least.