The method in Netanyahu’s madness

Jonathan Cook writes:

It was an Arab legislator who made the most telling comment to the Israeli parliament last week as it passed the boycott law, which outlaws calls to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied territories. Ahmed Tibi asked: “What is a peace activist or Palestinian allowed to do to oppose the occupation? Is there anything you agree to?”

The boycott law is the latest in a series of ever-more draconian laws being introduced by the far-right. The legislation’s goal is to intimidate those Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, who have yet to bow down before the majority-rule mob.

Look out in the coming days and weeks for a bill to block the work of Israeli human rights organisations trying to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from abuses by the Israeli army and settlers; and a draft law investing a parliamentary committee, headed by the far-right, with the power to veto appointments to the supreme court. The court is the only, and already enfeebled, bulwark against the right’s absolute ascendancy.

The boycott law, backed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, marks a watershed in this legislative assault in two respects.

First, it knocks out the keystone of any democratic system: the right to free speech. The new law makes it illegal for Israelis and Palestinians to advocate a non-violent political programme — boycott — to counter the ever-growing power of the half a million Jewish settlers living on stolen Palestinian land.

As the Israeli commentator Gideon Levy observed, the floodgates are now open: “Tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for an end to the occupation [or for] brotherhood between Jews and Arabs.”

Equally of concern is that the law creates a new type of civil, rather than criminal, offence. The state will not be initiating prosecutions. Instead, the job of enforcing the boycott law is being outsourced to the settlers and their lawyers. Anyone backing a boycott can be sued for compensation by the settlers themselves, who — again uniquely — need not prove they suffered actual harm.

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