Anti-Free Speech Bill Passed By Knesset Harms Israel

RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2017

T’ruah does not support or affiliate with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. We do, however, believe that free speech is an essential component of democracy, a basic human right, and a fundamental value of Judaism.

It is for that reason that T’ruah condemns the legislation passed today by the Knesset that bans those who support boycotts, including boycotts of West Bank settlements, from securing visas or permanent residency in Israel.

When the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt, one of the first places they land is Pi HaChirot: The Mouth of Freedom. The Torah knows that one of the first steps to liberation must be the freedom of speech.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yose were each asked what they thought of the Romans’ bathhouses, markets and bridges. Rabbi Yehuda praised the Romans, Rabbi Yose was silent, and Rabbi Shimon criticized the Romans for putting their self-interest above God’s. When the Roman emperor heard, he rewarded Rabbi Yehuda with a government position, banished Rabbi Yose, and sentenced Rabbi Shimon to death (though he fled to a cave and hid). Instead of being like the Romans, the Talmudic example of an oppressive empire, the Israeli government should heed this lesson of the Talmud and welcome the contributions of its critics.

The Israeli government has already started to question the loyalty of Jews like the staff of the New Israel Fund who dedicate their lives to building a democratic and safe Israel for the future. Shutting out Jews, and others, from Israel only damages the country for the long run.

The broad scope of this law also threatens to block anyone who objects to the settlements as an obstacle to peace. This may include anyone who has signed a letter advocating boycotts of the settlements or protesting investments in settlement construction; tour groups that have policies of not going over the Green Line; and groups that have policies of only investing inside of the Green Line.

With this move, Israel also strengthens the BDS movement both by offering more reason for complaint about clamping down on basic human rights, and by erasing the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories outside of the Green Line—the very erasure through which some adherents to the Global BDS movement deny Israel’s very right to exist. If Israel is to defeat the BDS movement, it must do so in the marketplace of ideas, while also working toward a peaceful solution that will protect both Israelis and Palestinians for the long term.