Controversial legislation sees Jewish community in US unite in denouncing it as affront to freedom of expression
American Jewish organizations from the Left and Right have come together to fight an unexpected “evil,” as they call it: The newly inducted anti-boycott law.
According to a Wednesday report in JTA, the US Jewish community seems remarkably united in deeming the measure an affront to freedom of expression.
“We’re disappointed that they passed the law,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for the Jewish public policy groups, said.
“We don’t support boycotts… The law does challenge democracy in a way, and hopefully the Supreme Court will respond.”
A prominent figure in the community hedged that “Not since ‘Who is a Jew?’ has there been a controversy that could seriously strain relations between Israel and American Jews. Who needs it?”
The law’s passing on Monday evoked harsh criticism by civil rights groups, which were quick to file a High Court petition against it.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he was still studying the legislation, but that in principle the ZOA opposed anti-boycott laws.
“Nobody was more appalled by the boycott of Ariel Theater than me, but to make it illegal? I don’t think so,” Klein told JTA, referring to calls by some Israeli artists to boycott a performing arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Supporters of the law in Israel say it is a necessary counter measure to boycott efforts.
The Anti-Defamation League, however, suggested in a public statement that the legislation is not the appropriate way to combat boycotts.
“To legally stifle calls to action – however abhorrent and detrimental they might be – is a disservice to Israeli society,” director Abraham Foxman said.
“We hope Israel’s Supreme Court will quickly take up a review of this law and resolve the concerns it raises.”
Foxman expressed further concern that Israel’s image suffered a blow – to some degree – by the legislation, and that even if the High Court eventually quashed it, the damage may be irrevocable.
“The people who wanted it will say, `We introduced it, we argued for it, we got it passed,’ and the people who think it’s contrary to democracy will have their victory in the court,” he said. “People are playing politics with an issue that does Israel damage.”
Joining the ADL in issuing statements condemning the law were various dovish Jewish groups, such as the New Israel Fund, J Street and Americans for Peace Now.
“When you start to persecute unpopular opinions, there really is no end point,” said Naomi Paiss, a spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington has reportedly received a torrent of calls seeking clarification on the matter by Jewish groups and individuals.
The embassy was telling those with queries, that “This is a matter of controversy in Israel, and it would appear that it will have to be heard by the High Court of Justice, as in any democracy.”
See Related: Boycott Law Archive