The passage of Israel’s controversial “boycott ban” law is the latest attempt by a right-wing government to impose its views on the country, activists and opposition lawmakers charge.
The ban, which makes calling for boycotts of Israel and its settlements a civil offence, passed the in Knesset despite widespread criticism and a warning from parliament’s legal adviser that it would be unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny.
Activists and opposition parties say the legislation shows that the right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party is intent on trampling dissent, including criticism of the occupation.
They point to a raft of legislation that the Knesset passed earlier this year, as well as pending initiatives, that seek to promote Israeli nationalism and punish those who criticise or protest over Israeli policies.
In March, the Knesset passed a bill allowing courts to strip the citizenship of Israelis convicted of espionage or terrorism, despite the reported opposition of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet.
The same month, lawmakers approved legislation to sanction state-funded organisations that mark the “Nakba” or “catastrophe,” in which Palestinians mourn the displacement and expulsion of Arabs after the creation of Israel in 1948.
The Knesset has also passed legislation allowing small Israeli communities to set up “admission committees” with the right to veto new residents.
Rights groups say the committees are liable to engage in housing discrimination, particularly against Arab residents of the Jewish state.
The boycott law passed the Knesset by 47 votes to 38 in the 120-seat body, with many lawmakers, including Netanyahu, staying away.
But despite not casting a vote in the law’s favour, Netanyahu vocally defended the legislation on Wednesday, a day after its passage, claiming he “personally” helped to bring the law to a vote in the Knesset.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, speaking on public radio, accused Netanyahu of using the bill to “drape himself in a so-called patriotism, presenting himself as Israel’s defender against what he presents as ‘the enemies within’.”
Rafi Smith, director of Smith Consulting and Research Inc., said Netanyahu sought to suggest that Israel was being threatened from all sides.
“Netanyahu wants to give his compatriots the sense that Israel is under siege, to maintain fear and justify the necessity of defending against attempts to ‘delegitimise Israel’,” Smith told AFP.
“Netanyahu willingly does the bidding of the radical current in his own party, the Likud, and his right-wing allies,” added Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
Despite his expressed support for the boycott law, Netanyahu has said he does not back a bill proposed by his party colleagues that would make future court appointments subject to confirmation by the Knesset.
The bill, proposed as lawmakers angrily warned the courts not to overturn the boycott law, would extend Knesset control over the selection of judges, who are currently chosen by judicial consensus.
But Netanyahu has thrown his support behind several new initiatives that have provoked new ire among the country’s left wing.
A new education ministry directive, advanced by Netanyahu confidant and education minister Gideon Saar, will require kindergartens to start each week by raising the Israeli flag and singing the national anthem.
And the Knesset is shortly due to consider legislation that would create commissions to investigate the financing of Israeli human rights groups.
Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and ex-head of the leftist Meretz party, slammed the trend in an opinion piece in the Haaretz newspaper.
“We’re dealing with a nationalist fever… The Knesset was taken over by a savage tribe, called up by rabbis, settlers and other moon-struck and sun-struck delusionists,” he warned.
“Democracy is struggling to defend itself from those eating its flesh.”