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Israel's boycott ban meets swift resistance

The Israeli parliament passed a law Monday banning boycotts against the state and its settlements, a move critics call an unconstitutional assault on democratic values.

By Correspondent / July 12, 2011

Israeli left wing activists hold signs as they demonstrate against the suggested boycott law, in front of the Justice ministry in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 10. The Israeli parliament passed a law Monday banning boycotts against the state and its settlements.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Tel Aviv

Israel’s parliament late Monday approved a controversial law banning boycotts against the state and Jewish settlements, a retaliatory move against growing calls for economic and political pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank amid stagnant peace talks with the Palestinians.

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The law fines groups or individuals that promote anti-Israel or antisettlement boycotts and exposes them to lawsuits of nearly $10,000 without having to prove any damage.

Though proponents argue that the law is necessary to protect Israeli citizens against campaigns to delegitimize Israel and make it into a pariah state, the bill’s passage has raised a storm of criticism alleging that the measure erodes the country’s democracy and will ultimately weaken its international standing.

"This is a blatant and a resounding shutting of people's mouths. This is a thought police," wrote Ben Caspit, a columnist for the daily newspaper Maariv. "The news of this law passing will spread throughout the world like a fire in a field of thorns … . Our image, already at a low, will continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel. The delegitimization will increase."

The breakdown of peace talks has prompted the Palestinian Authority to promote an economic boycott on anything manufactured in the Jewish settlements or with links to towns in lands claimed by the Palestinians as part of a future state.

There is also concern about efforts of pro-Palestinian activists to lobby for international sanctions against Israel, such as the exclusion of academics from conferences abroad.

However, the law is also aimed an Israeli doves who have called on the public to boycott visiting the settlements and to avoid buying goods made there. Last year, a group of state-employed actors refused to participate in a performance by Israel’s national theater company in the settlement of Ariel, stirring a furor.

"The Knesset has put an end to the stupidity of boycotts emanating within our midst," says Zeev Elkin, the parliamentary whip for the ruling Likud Party. "The boycott law isn’t meant to shut people up but defend the citizens of Israel."

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