This legislation together with a long series of bills, some already enacted, aim to intimidate critics and silence protest. In March 2010, the Israeli parliament enacted the Nakba law allowing the State to revoke government funding for groups that mark Israeli Arabs' Day of Destruction (Nakba). These measures of political repression show that Israel is willing to go to a great length in undermining basic rights and freedoms such as the freedom of expression and association, wrecking havoc on its civil society and Palestinian minority.
To meet with retribution and attempts at repression, resistance need not be violent. And when it unites people, it cannot be silenced. Exemplary in this respect is the feminist revolution. It has been liberating women as well as men everywhere, without bloodshed. In the same spirit of solidarity and non-violent resistance, the Palestinian civil society called in July 2005 for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel “until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” The effect of this call has been immense and is still growing, so much so that Israel can no longer turn a blind eye to it. Israeli leaders acknowledge that the boycott movement against Israel is effective. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of “a political tsunami" against Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered boycotting the Mideast Quartet meeting for fear of international pressure.
Indeed, the Palestinian nonviolent struggle made its mark and global solidarity with the Palestinians is soaring while Israel’s international status is plummeting. The EU is considering sanctions against Israel. The UN singled out Israel for human rights abuse. Several South American and Latin American states already recognized Palestinian independence and this trend is now on the rise in Europe. According to a recent BBC poll surveying 27 countries, Israel is grouped with Iran and North Korea as “the world's least popular countries” and viewed as having a negative influence in the world. According to an ICM European poll carried out in January 2011, European public opinion is swaying against Israel. This may suggest that the international community is approaching the point of finally having enough of Israel’s entrenched policies of occupation and settlement.
Rather than addressing and redressing the real issues Israel is now targeting peace activists and human rights defenders, suggesting they are to blame for Israel's loss of legitimacy. The incarceration of Palestinian popular struggle leaders Abdullah Abu Rahmah and Bassam Tamimi and of Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak are just a few instances, clearly indicating a move towards severe harassment of activists engaged in popular protest. Those who raise their voice against government policies are denounced as enemies of the state. At the same time, it is worth noting that Israelis of all walks of life responded to the boycott prohibition bill with disdain and anger. Over 50 Israeli civil society organizations, headed by the Coalition of Women for Peace, have signed an urgent appeal to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset calling the committee to halt the legislative proceedings of the Boycott Prohibition bill. Israel Prize laureates and eminent cultural icons protested the bill, describing it as suicidal. Israel, they have stated, is acting like a criminal state. Israel’s international isolation is now recognized by some prominent Israelis to be a result of misguided, “hysterical” even, actions of a reckless government willing to further sacrifice its commitment to democracy for a commitment to maintaining the occupation.
Outlawing boycotts against Israel and similar measures of repression will not turn the tide. These are rightfully perceived as pathetic and desperate attempts at silencing legitimate dissent. The intensifying pressure of the international community should support the resolve of Israeli and international civil society to continue resisting occupation policies. It should eventually force Israel to come to its senses. As Reverend Samuel Kyles, speaking on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, said: "You can kill the dreamer...but you cannot kill the dream." The Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice, like the feminist movement, is bound to redeem both the oppressed and the oppressor; may they free themselves from slavery and the enslaver from tyranny.
Rachel Giora is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and a member of BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within.