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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.

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The law was criticized by the Palestinian Authority, which said that the law would empower the government to sanction international groups that boycott the settlements. The bill "sends a clear message that Israel is not committed to a two-state solution," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a statement.

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Israeli critics said that the law would penalize only certain types of boycotts and that it reflects a blow to minority rights in Israel. It’s the latest in a line of legislation backed by Israel’s rightist parliament that critics say erodes the country’s democratic principles.

"This is a proposal that purports to prevent 'damage to the state of Israel' via a boycott," wrote Mordechai Kremnitzer, a law professor at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, "but it actually undermines criticism and political protest against ruling policies. This is liable to have a chilling effect... and injure freedom of expression."

Rights groups vowed to petition Israel’s High Court against the law. The boycott law has already drawn fire from parliament’s legal adviser, who said the legislation could very well be found unconstitutional. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was notably absent from the vote, a move which commentators suggested reflected his discomfort with the law.

In the prime minister’s address to the US Congress in May, he bragged about Israel’s commitment to democracy and the rights enjoyed by the country’s one-fifth minority. Critics said the new law will undermine Israel’s moral authority to call for democratic reform among Middle East neighbors.

"After the passing of this law, how can the Israeli government expect the people of Iran to back sanctions against their own country and to rise up against Iran's rulers, when Israelis can no longer call for a boycott against their own country?" says Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran.

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