First Amendment travesties far and near

The Israeli Parliament recently passed legislation to bar public calls for a boycott against Israel or its West Bank settlements, according to the New York Times. The law’s supporters said it was necessary to push back against what they described as a strategy to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world.

Am I the only one to see the irony here? Suppressing calls for boycotts or other demonstrations, ostensibly to protect against challenges to a government’s legitimacy, is akin to shutting down a university in order to counter an assault on academic freedom, or canceling an election to thwart threats to democracy. Or, to paraphrase US policy proclamations during the Vietnam War, destroying a village in order to save it.

Israel, which is not only the oldest democracy in the Mideast, but, even following the Arab Spring revolutions, the freest Mideast country by far and the most protective of individual liberties, ought to know better than to engage in this sort of legislative doublespeak.

The way to protect Israel’s legitimacy is by protecting speech and expressive (nonviolent) conduct that contests Israel’s legitimacy, whether from Israeli citizens, Palestinians in the occupied territories, or neighboring countries with which Israel remains formally at war. Israel is strengthened by its tolerance of criticism.

Peter Scheer
Vice President, NFOIC, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition