Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lara Friedman's Half Truths

Peace Now director Lara Friedman has spied a golden opportunity to engaged in some more Israel bashing, now that this new anti-boycott law is out, and so has jumped on  board the bandwagon. In her latest article, she attempts to prove how Israel's law is not in fact similar to an American counter-boycott law and therefore is still undemocratic. As usual, I am going to summarize from her words so if you feel I am misrepresenting what she is saying, check out the article and make sure.

So anyway, Ms. Friedman says the major difference between the American ABL and the Israeli ABL is as follows:
"The key words in all of this are "by a foreign country." The objective behind these laws....is: "preventing U.S. firms from being used to implement foreign policies of other nations which run counter to U.S. policy..." The key words here, again, are: "other nations." ...U.S. law doesn't bar U.S. citizens from organizing boycotts of anything or any country, or participating in boycotts of anything or any country, that are organized by domestic or foreign individuals or organizations. What U.S. law bars is participation in unsanctioned boycotts and embargoes imposed by other countries that conflict with U.S. policies -- including but not limited to the (effectively moribund) Arab League boycott of Israel."
So in other words, as long as the idea for the boycott begins and ends in America, it's not against the law. It is only if the Arabs call for a boycott of Israel and US citizens go along with it, then it becomes a problem. To this I have two reactions, as it seems like a distinction without a difference.

1. By Ms. Friedman's logic, this is still undemocratic. If certain Americans want to go along with whatever the Arabs say, then by God don't they have a right to do so? This is still a free country, and we're allowed to agree with foreigners if we want to, right? Of course, what the U.S. law bars is individual Americans or companies participating in boycotts without the government's permission or consent. But in that case, we're back where we started, as the US has never been in favor of boycotting Israel (that's why they passed the law in the first freaking place).
2. Although Ms. Friedman would like us to believe that the American BDS movement is entirely domestic, we all know that that really isn't true. If all of these organizations would like to prove that their money is not coming from the Middle East at all, no problem from me. In fact that is partially what the law was set up in the first place. I personally would find it very difficult to believe that all of these anti-Israel pro-Palestinian organizations in America operate completely independently from the Palestinians themselves and their backers. So like I said, in many ways a distinction without a difference.

She starts playing up the settlements angle, i.e. that boycotts only are ever against the settlements and not against Israel's right to exist:
"Even if opponents of a boycott of settlement products could somehow make the case that such a boycott was being fostered by a foreign government, U.S. anti-boycott law would not apply. Israel has never annexed the West Bank, and settlements are not legally part of Israel, even under Israeli law. So such a boycott could not fairly be characterized as targeting "a country which is friendly to the United States." Moreover, U.S. anti-boycott law stipulates that compliance with foreign boycotts is prohibited if they reflect "foreign policies of other nations which run counter to U.S. policy" -- but U.S. policy has long opposed settlements."
 Right so again, Ms. Friedman seems to be saying that the only boycotts that exist in America are those of settlements, which we already determined is far from the truth. And even though U.S. policy is against the settlements, the U.S. government has never been in favor of boycotting the settlements either. That would mean that the boycotters are still acting like foreign policy vigilantes against the will of the U.S. government, so as before it is a distinction without a difference.

Having misrepresented what the American law says, Ms. Friedman then attempts to misrepresent what the Israeli law says. She is hardly the first Huffington Post blogger to take the first interpretation of the law and run with it, as Robert Naiman did, but she has more of an excuse considering she isn't technically a journalist. Anyway let the spin commence:
"In Israel, one can still in fact use boycotts to protest anything and everything. Except, that is, to protest Israeli government policy as it relates to settlements and the occupation."
Ah, such lovely spin. Boycotting to "protest" is one thing, but the goal of BDS is to punish the settlements for what they see as a crime (and of course to wipe Israel off the map). It's actually quite absurd for Ms. Friedman to try and speak for the boycotters as motivated only by (a) a desire to protest Israeli government policy and (b) a desire to protest only those policies that most people in America don't agree with. Finally, the boycott law in no way criminalizes freedom to protest, which is what Ms. Friedman seems to be implying. But she isn't finished:
"Under Israel's new anti-boycott law, participating in or calling for any such boycott opens one up to being sued for practically unlimited "compensation," with the person doing the suing not even obligated to prove that any actual "damage" was done."
 That last part is straight up not true, and that's what happens when you rely on obviously partisan left-wing magazines for your information. Furthermore, in the United States, private individuals are in fact allowed to sue for libel because of attacks made on them because they belong to a certain group. You can read a specific example at the link I provided. And yeah, libel laws can be destructive to free speech too, but most countries still have them. Let's clear this up with what the law actually says:
"1) the law does not restrict free speech except insofar as injured persons or bodies may sue the boycott advocates for damages under the old damages law [neziqin]. Laws in civilized countries restrict free speech, of course, on the grounds of libel which can lead to imposing payment of damages on libellers, as well as on the grounds of incitement to violence, sedition, threats of violence, etc.2) the law also allows the govt to withhold govt grants, subsidies, or other special state benefits and favors from advocates of the boycott, not including pensions, child allowances, etc.3) BDS advocacy is treated as a civil offense perhaps warranting damages or withholding of state benefits. It is not treated as a criminal matter. The law does not forbid bds advocacy."
The goal of this law has always been that it is questionable for Israel to condemn BDS advocates outside of Israel for doing what they do, while allowing those same BDS advocates to run rampant at home. From Israel's perspective, that's a little strange. So I'm not sure what to think about the law, but I do know that the Lara Friedman's, Bradley Burston's, and Robert Naiman's of the world are being their usual melodramatic selves. But I guess they needed something to distract attention away from the Great Flotilla Failure.

1 comment:

  1. Lara Friedman overlooks the fact a democracy is not a suicide pact. Israel is not obligated to provide its enemies a playing field to destroy it. Just the exact opposite. Every civilized country on earth does the same thing. Why is Israel alone singled out for criticism? We all know why!

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