Any political change of such magnitude is the result of a lot of hard work and is always incremental, indicating that there really is no single historical event that one can claim as the moment of conversion.
The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, who doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire when police confiscated his produce because he did not have the necessary permits, will be remembered as the spark that ignited the Tunisian revolution, and perhaps even the regional social uprisings now called the Arab Awakening. Similarly, the massive gatherings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square will probably be seen as the straw that broke the camel's back, setting in motion a slow process of Egyptian democratization.
In Israel, it might very well be that the Boycott Bill, which the Knesset approved by a vote of 47 to 38, will also be remembered as a historic landmark.
Ironically, the bill itself is likely to be inconsequential. It
stipulates that any person who initiates, promotes or publishes material
that might serve as grounds for imposing a boycott on Israel or the
Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is
committing an offence. If found "guilty" of such an offence, that person
may be ordered to compensate parties economically affected by the
boycott, including reparations of 30,000 Israeli shekels (8,700 US
dollars) without an obligation on the part of the plaintiffs to prove
The bill's objective is to defend Israel's settlement project and other policies that contravene international human rights law against non-violent mobilisation aimed at putting an end to these policies.
The Knesset's legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, said that the bill "damages the core of Israel's freedom of political expression" and that it would be difficult for him to defend the law in the High Court of Justice since it contradicts Israel's basic law of "Human Dignity and Liberty".Given Yinon's statement, and the fact that Israeli rights organizations have already filed a petition to the High Court arguing that the bill is anti-democratic,there is a good chance that the Boycott Bill's life will be extremely short.
And yet this law should still be considered as a turning point. Not because of what the bill does, but because of what it represents.
The onslaught on democracy has been incremental. The Boycott Bill was merely a defining moment, preceded by the Nakba and Acceptance Committee laws, and will likely be followed by the passing of a batch of laws aimed at destroying Israeli human rights organizations. These laws will be voted upon in the coming months, and, given the composition of the Israeli Knesset, it is extremely likely that all of them will pass.
Prof. Neve Gordon
Department of Politics and Government
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