As legislators, it’s our job to write bills and pass laws that make our country better. That should be our sole goal when pushing a bill through the Knesset. Legislation that doesn’t fulfill this goal is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, it is a form of deception. When lawmakers propose a bill that accomplishes nothing, their only purpose is to trick their constituents into believing that they are doing something useful.
Monday, the Knesset passed a law supposedly aimed at the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement. The law, approved by a 46 to 28 vote, bars foreigners who support a boycott from entering Israel. I get it. BDS and international isolation is a really big problem that Israel must tackle, and the coalition wants to tell their constituents that they are fighting it.
So what’s the matter with their new law? For starters, not only does it fail to combat BDS, it arguably helps the cause.
One of BDS’s greatest faults is that they view Israel through a simplistic black and white lens. Israel does some very bad things, so advocates of BDS say that all of Israel and all Israelis (anywhere in the world) must be boycotted. This tarring of Israel with such a broad brush is detrimental to peace. BDS advocates should see the nuances within Israeli society and realize that there are Israelis fighting for the occupation as well as those fighting against it.
The law that just passed inadvertantly tells advocates of BDS that they are correct. It says that those who advocate a boycott of Israel, and those who advocate a boycott of territories under Israel’s control, i.e. the West Bank, are one and the same, that being “anti-Israel” and “anti-settlements” is one and the same. It paints Israel with the same broad brush that BDS uses, a brush that blurs the green line between Israel and the West Bank.
It’s time for the government to stop following in the footsteps of BDS and recognize this nuance. It’s time for this coalition to admit that there is a very big difference between Israel and the West Bank; that the borders of Israel do not include the West Bank, and that there is a huge difference between a boycott of Israel and a boycott of the settlements.
Coalition members themselves uphold this distinction when, in wording legislation, they use phrases such as “Israel and ‘areas under its control.’” They know that the West Bank is not the same as Israel, but they write these phrases for legal reasons and hold their nose as they do it.
Some would call that cognitive dissonance. Some would call that willful ignorance.
To their credit, though, this law is a brilliant political move. Not only do its backers get to tell their voters that they are putting up a heroic fight against BDS, and not only have they passed yet another law that conflates Israel and the West Bank in keeping with their ideological stance, but with the help of this bill, they can now legally bar entry to Israel by those who advocate boycotts of the settlements.
They’ve created a legal mechanism to keep those still fighting for a two-state solution outside the borders and inhibit their influence here in Israel. In other words, they are barring those with a different political opinion from theirs.
This ban applies to Jewish Israel-loving Zionists like Peter Beinart and many more Zionists from groups like J Street who dedicate their lives to Israel. If Beinart brings a group of Jewish liberal-Zionists, will we stop them at our gates? Because the government wants to keep their views out? Do we want bills that stop contradictory views at our borders? Do we think it’s the coalition’s job to keep our minds and ears safe from things they view as wrong?
Of course not.
The fact is that BDS should be fought, but this is not the way to do it. This does exactly what they do. BDS thinks that not talking to people they disagree with will help. I say that the only way to affect change is to build bridges, and the only way to build bridges is to talk specifically to those with whom you disagree.
This bill adopts BDS’s method of creating change. What do you think?
Tamar Zandberg is a member of Knesset in the Meretz party.