New York, July 13, 2011 In response to legislation passed Tuesday by the Knesset which will allow for civil proceedings against individuals or organizations found to be instigators of anti-Israel boycotts and bars companies from bidding for Israeli government tenders if they participate in boycotts, including in the West Bank, leaders of the Reform Movement in North America and Israel responded:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, cautioned against the threat this bill poses to free speech in Israel:
"The Reform Movement has long supported free speech as essential to the life of any democracy. This new boycott bill is therefore deeply troubling. We do not support boycotts or economic sanctions imposed upon Israel, whether internal or external, individual or organized; however, we strongly condemn legislation that limits speech or symbolic speech. Claims that this bill is necessary to prevent efforts to delegitimize Israel are sorely misguided; it will, in fact, have the exact opposite effect, by tarnishing Israel's image as a state committed to democratic values.
It is our hope that the Israeli Supreme Court will uphold Israel's tradition of personal liberty and will strike down this legislation."
Rabbi Danny Allen, Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) expressed the potential damage the bill does to the work of strengthening Israel as a democratic country:
"Criminalizing political behavior harms democracy. The passage of the anti-boycott legislation by Knesset tarnishes the open, inclusive, democratic Israel for which we all work each day."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, and Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Center characterized the law as anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic:
"In principle, the Israel Reform Movement does not support boycott as a means to delegitimize the State of Israel. Reform Judaism in Israel and throughout the world stands against international actors who are taking steps to harm Israel's legitimacy and to isolate the country. However, the attempt to prevent a boycott by means of legislation is much more dangerous than the use of the boycott and may cause greater damage to the strength of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The law that was recently approved by the Knesset actually provides support to those calling for boycotts and isolation of Israel and in this sense, the law is both unjust and unintelligent at the same time.
Therefore the Israel Reform Movement condemns the Knesset's adoption of the "Boycott Law," a law that penalizes a form of non-violent protest against government policies and severely infringes on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. This law is yet another sad addition to a series of anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic laws recklessly being passed by the current Israeli Knesset in its efforts to silence opposition. The Jewish tradition embraces public debate and controversy. As our sages teach us, "these and these are the words of the Living God." The Knesset would do wisely to heed this teaching."