Knes­seti­sademo­crat­ic­body

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Al­der­man

Aof ex­pres­sion be­cause the West­min­ster par­lia­ment has in its wis­dom en­acted laws against defama­tion.

I can call you what I like (and vice-versa, of course) but, if you feel you have been slan­dered or li­belled, you can bring a civil suit against me. Strictly speak­ing, there­fore, the Bri­tish laws against defama­tion con­sti­tute mul­ti­ple as­saults upon free­dom of ex­pres­sion. But, as I have ar­gued be­fore in this col­umn, free­dom is not the same thing as li­cence. If I say some­thing about you that can­not on the face of it be jus­ti­fied, and es­pe­cially if you suf­fer eco­nomic or rep­u­ta­tional loss as a re­sult, you can sue me. Ev­ery civilised coun­try that I know of gives you such a right.

As a mat­ter of fact, the new anti-boy­cott law was prob­a­bly, in the nar­row­est of legal senses, un­nec­es­sary. Is­raeli ju­rists tell me that, in all prob­a­bil­ity, the right to bring a civil ac­tion against some­one call­ing for a boy­cott and to re­cover dam­ages was al­ready en­shrined in Is­raeli law.

In that sense, what was passed by the Knes­set has merely made ex­plicit that which was pre­vi­ously im­plicit.

If so, so much the bet­ter. In this con­nec­tion, I should add that, while it is true that few democ­ra­cies have such an un­equiv­o­cal law as the one that the Knes­set passed a month ago, most have, within liv­ing mem­ory, en­acted other leg­is­la­tion that cov­ers much the same ground.

If you don’t be­lieve me, take a mo­ment to read on­line the text of the UK’s Treach­ery Act of 1940.

In the me­dia fog cre­ated by those who got them­selves steamed up over last month’s deci- sion of the Knes­set to em­power those who suf­fer from the ac­tiv­i­ties of boy­cotters, the un­der­ly­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the leg­is­la­tion was missed.

And now we are likely to ex­pe­ri­ence a sim­i­larly con­trived fog as a re­sult of an­other bill be­fore the Knes­set.

Last week, some 40 MKs, from both gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion par­ties, sig­nalled their sup­port for a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill that seeks to un­der­pin the Jewish char­ac­ter of the Jewish state.

For ex­am­ple, it would, if en­acted, mod­ify the cur­rent law (dat­ing from the days of the Man­date) which gives par­ity of sta­tus to Ara­bic, English and He­brew. Un­der the pro­posed law, He­brew will be Is­rael’s only of­fi­cial lan­guage, though Ara­bic will con­tinue to en­joy a spe­cial sta­tus.

I don’t pre­tend to like ev­ery clause of this bill, but that re­lat­ing to the lan­guage of the state seems quite un­prob­lem­atic.

Is­rael is the Jewish state and while eth­nic mi­nori­ties must be pro­tected (as the drafters of this bill com­mend­ably seek to do), the pri­macy of He­brew is surely as ap­pro­pri­ate in Is­rael as is that of Nor­we­gian in Nor­way or Ara­bic in Saudi Ara­bia.

More con­tro­ver­sially, I suspect, the new bill calls upon the state of Is­rael to act “to in­gather the ex­iles of Is­rael and as­sist Jewish set­tle­ment within it”.

This clause must be read in con­junc­tion with the anti-boy­cott Act, which now gives equal­ity of legal stand­ing and pro­tec­tion (in re­spect of boy­cott) both to the ter­ri­to­ries al­lot­ted to Is­rael un­der the 1949 ar­mistice agree­ments and to the West Bank ar­eas that were lib­er­ated in 1967.

And that, af­ter all, is the cru­cial sig­nif­i­cance of the leg­is­la­tion en­acted by the Knes­set a month ago.

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