J Street's onslaught is fairly typical of the hysterical responses. It reads:
"J Street condemns the Knesset's passage yesterday of a law making the call for boycotts of Israel or the West Bank settlements illegal, as a clear and unabashed violation of the fundamental democratic precept of freedom of speech.
"This bill is part of a disturbing anti-democratic trend that undermines its purported purpose by giving fodder to Israel's critics and alienating many of its friends.
"In direct contradiction to claims that it would somehow protect Israel from efforts to delegitimize it, the boycott bill actually gives ammunition to those who question Israel's democratic standing. While J Street opposes the BDS movement, we are concerned that criminalizing it will only be used as further justification for increasing anti-Israel boycotts." (My emphasis)
Like with many of the statements and headlines on this new law, J Street's statement is a total mischaracterization of the law. It states that the new law "criminalizes" calling for a boycott. This is a gross mistatement. U.S. law makes it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a penalty of $50,000 or five times damages, whichever is greater, to promote or engage in a boycott of Israel. Companies can also lose their right to export.
In contrast, the new Israeli law is a civil statute that creates a new tort. It gives the right to sue to someone who alleges damages from a call to boycott or compliance with the boycott against the person who alledgedly caused the damages. It also prohibits companies that start or comply with boycotts from doing business with the Israeli government. It "criminalizes" nothing and makes nothing "illegal."
The Israeli Attorney General has expressed his doubts about the law. He said he will defend it but indicated it will not be a particularly robust defense.
I do not like the law. I think there are better ways to fight the boycott. Nevertheless, it is not the end of democracy in Israel. It is not even the beginning of the end. Indeed, the entire debate about the law, the fact that it was substantially amended, and the fact that the Supreme Court might very well invalidate it are pretty good evidence that Israel's democracy is vibrant.
Both the right and the left here in Israel are using the law for their own purposes. (Surprise: Israeli politicians are just like those in other countries.) The fact that anti-Israel folks are making a big deal out of the law is no surprise and probably is a good reason it should not have been passed. The fact that a lot of American Jews are seeing it as some huge catastrophe and the downfall of Israeli democracy shows that they either have not read it, are super-sensitive and defensive, and/or are looking for things to criticize Israel about.
Unfortunately, by the time these kinds of issues are adequately understood or get defeated or are otherwise neutered, the organizations are on to the next crisis de jure and the damage done to Israel with the Jewish and general public is irreparable. It is a wonder why these kinds of issues so upset many American Jewish organizations and their members, particularly those that lean left, while issues related to Israel's very survival and the safety of its citizens are often treated in a nonchalant, even cavalier manner.
Better they should get a little upset about Iranian nuclear development and President Abbas' continuing refusal to negotiate unless his objectives are agreed to before sitting down at the table.