Israeli groups to challenge boycott law in court

Protest Qalqiliya, Palestinians & Internationals on July 11, 2011 (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

July 12, 2011

JERUSALEM – A coalition of Israeli human rights groups said Tuesday it would ask the country’s Supreme Court to overturn a new law that bans boycotting Jewish West Bank settlements — legislation critics see as the government’s latest attempt to muzzle dissent.

A spokeswoman for the rights groups, Tamara Traubmann, said the groups would submit their petition to the high court within the coming week.

The organizations have already written a letter of protest to Israeli authorities emphasizing that “irrespective of their own positions regarding the tactic of boycott, outlawing it severely restricts freedom of expression by targeting non-violent public expressions of opposition to Israeli policies,” they said in a statement.

The law was approved on Monday even after parliament’s legal adviser, Eyal Inon, warned that it would violate freedom of expression and was either borderline illegal, if not flatly so.

The contentious legislation was a top news story in Israel, reflecting the fierce debate polarizing a country split between those who champion Israeli dominion over the war-won West Bank for either religious or security reasons and those who advocate a large-scale withdrawal from the territory in exchange for peace with the Palestinians.

It also reflects a backlash among members of the hardline coalition against people and groups who they see as attempting to delegitimize Israel.

The new law lets settlers or settlement-based businesses sue Israelis who promote settlement boycotts. Courts would determine whether a boycott caused direct damage and if so, assess damages.

The law was approved Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition. But Netanyahu and several other leading members of his Cabinet were not present for the vote. A spokesman, Mark Regev, had no immediate explanation for the Israeli leader’s absence.

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