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Israeli parliament advances law to keep fight against BDS secret from public

July 18, 2017 10:48 P.M. (Updated: July 19, 2017 3:33 P.M.)
Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem calling to boycott Israeli products coming from settlements, 2015. ( AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli bill aimed at exempting Israel’s attempts at combating the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and efforts to “delegitimize Israel” from Israel’s Freedom of Information Law, which allows Israeli citizens to obtain information from the government, passed its first reading in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Monday.

According to a statement released by the Knesset, 25 Members of the Knesset (MKs) supported the bill, while 12 MKs voted against it and one abstained from the vote.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan from the right-wing Likud party, who is in charge of combating the boycott movement, said that the “boycott organizations are spread out geographically and act in different areas. The organizations built a network of activity and act in coordination with the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

“There is a campaign of falsehoods fueling hate,” he added.

He also said that the fight against the boycott movement was a “battlefront like any other” and insisted that the Israeli government formulate a strategy for “running the campaign against this phenomenon.”

Part of that strategy, according to the Knesset statement, is to make Erdan’s efforts against the so-called “delegitimization” of Israel completely secret, by exempting it from Israel’s Freedom of Information Law, which ensures that Israeli citizens and residents have the “the right to obtain information from a public authority.”

The bill aims to add the Strategic Affairs Ministry to a list of bodies that are exempt from the law.

"One of the principles for success is keeping our methods of action secret…Since most of the ministry’s actions are not of the ministry, but through bodies around the world who do not want to expose their connection with the state,” Erdan stated.

On top of formulating a state-wide campaign against pro-Palestinian activists criticizing Israeli policies, which would be undertaken in secret if the bill were to pass into law, the Israeli government has also introduced other anti-BDS policies, including passing a law in March banning foreigners who have openly expressed support for BDS from entering the country.

MK Nachaman Shai, from the Zionist Camp, considered to be left-wing in the Israeli political landscape, referred to the bill as ”censorship in a costume.”

Micky Rosenthal, also part of the Zionist Camp, said that he did “not believe it is necessary to harm the Freedom of Information Law,” insinuating that the proposed bill would be harmful to existing Israeli legislation.

The BDS movement has gained momentum over past years, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has grown increasingly concerned about the growth of the BDS movement, as the movement’s support base has expanded to include companies, universities, and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.

In January 2016, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat BDS, and dedicated 100 million shekels ($26 million) of the government’s 2016 budget to the issue.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has also targeted Israeli human rights groups with legislation thats rights groups have said is aimed at weeding out criticisms against Israel’s policies in Palestinian communities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that he would seek to push forward ever more stringent regulations of foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, a move that has been denounced as another attempt to stifle human rights organizations in Israel.
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