The Boim Bill presented to the Israeli Parliament last week represents a further threat to human rights, international law, and conscientious dissent in Israel and the occupied territories. Perhaps even more so, it poses a further threat to the future of the battered but enduring ideal of a just and democratic state of Israel.
The bill, drafted by senior Likud MK and government coalition chair Ze’ev Boim, would make punishable by ten years in prison any assistance provided by an Israeli citizen to the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. Punishable offenses would include sharing “any information” including “writings, photographs, documents, opinions and reports,” initiating “investigations and the writing down of their results,” and “collection, keeping and preparation and transfer of information.” The only compliment which can be paid this bill is that it displays a characteristically Israeli lack of dissembling the Boim Bill is exactly what it appears to be: an assault on the democratic freedom of Israeli citizens to collect and share information which could arouse more criticism of the current Israeli regime, or furnish empirical support for such criticism. This bill strives to subvert international accountability, and in so doing, to erode the threat of principled dissent.
As Gush Shalom has warned, “Once enacted, the new law could find a much wider application. In fact, any act of by human rights organization collecting and disseminating testimonies of human rights violations might be eventually construed as violation of the new law, on the pretext that the reports might find their way to the Hague Court and be used by it as evidence.”
Suppression of dissent and criminalization of information send dangerous messages to all sectors of Israeli society and to the world. To peaceniks like Haâaretz journalist Amira Hass, whose recent column included vivid personal accounts of the dire lack of medical care available under closure in Tul Karm, this bill delivers an unveiled threat of retribution for seeking out data and speaking out for justice. To political and military policy-makers like newly appointed Defense Minister Shaul Moffaz, who compares the Palestinian people to “a cancer” and the IDF to “chemotherapy,” it delivers a green light to flout the reservations and recriminations of thoughtful critics from all corners of the world and all parts of the political spectrum. To the community of nations and international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, which in its last annual report urged “the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to take immediate steps to stop abuses by the forces under their control,” it delivers a cold shoulder and a clear message that the Israeli government need not be bound by international standards or subject to international rebuke.
The Boim Bill will be brought up for vote after 45 days, as per Knesset policy. Whether or not it passes its first reading will have a great deal to do with the coalition Sharon constructs without the Labor Party. Either way, the lack of attention or protest which meets the introduction, by a senior political figure, of a bill criminalizing assistance to the Hague, at a time when respected politicians and members of Sharon’s coalition are calling for the forced “transfer” of Palestinians out of the territories, is a sad commentary on the state of Israeli democracy. It is unfortunate, if not surprising, that Israel, like all nations, finds it most difficult to hear conscientious internal and external criticism when it is most urgently needed. It is unfortunate, if not surprising, that those who criticize the Israeli government, particularly in this country, find themselves labeled as antisemites or self-hating Jews, as bigots or as traitors.
The immediate targets of this legislation, the Israeli peace activists of Gush Shalom, raised Sharon’s ire by warning fifteen senior officers of the IDF that they were responsible for documented violations of international law. Attorney General Rubinstein, after crusading to indict the activists, discovered to his disappointment that existing law provided him no legal leg to stand on. Lucky for him, Ze’ev Boim has stepped up to the plate. The men and women of Gush Shalom, who have spent the past months picking olives with Palestinian families, demonstrating at checkpoints and the Ministry of Defense, performing civil disobedience by taking the garbage out of cities under closure, and documenting violations of international law, are not the enemies of the Israeli people. They should not be the enemies of the Israeli government. The men and women of Gush Shalom demonstrate that to be “Pro-Israel” need not necessitate blind apologetics for the Israeli government.
The State of Israel, its Declaration of Independence declares, “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture.” One wonders whether an Isaiah or a Jeremiah, standing in sackcloth and ashes outside of the Knesset, would be welcomed inside or sent to jail.
Josh Eidelson is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.