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.