A bill aimed at hiding Israel’s attempts to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and other organized efforts to “delegitimize” the state passed its first reading in the Knesset on Monday, July 17.
The bill, which would add the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, responsible among other things for combating the BDS movement, to the list of governmental bodies that are exempt from the provisions of Israel’s Freedom of Information Law. In Monday’s first (of three) readings, the bill passed by a vote of 25 to 12 with 1 abstention. Among those MKs voting against the bill were Hadash MKs,
The Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan from the right-wing Likud party, told the Knesset that “boycott organizations are widely dispersed geographically and act in different areas.” “These organizations have built a network of activity and act in coordination with the Palestinian Authority,” claimed Erdan. He added that the fight against the BDS movement was a “battlefront like any other” and insisted that the Israeli government formulate a strategy for “running the campaign against this phenomenon.”
Part of that strategy is to make Erdan’s ministry’s efforts against the so-called “delegitimization” of Israel completely secret by denying Israeli citizens and residents “the right to obtain information from [the] public authority” In charge of such efforts, namely the Minister of Strategic Affairs.
Erdan declared that “[o]ne of the principles for success is keeping our methods of action secret. Most of the ministry’s activities in this realm are not performed directly by its own officials, but rather, “through bodies around the world who do not want to expose their connection with the state,” but which the ministry coordinates.
Beyond formulating a statewide campaign against pro-Palestinian activists criticizing Israeli policies, which could be undertaken in secret if the bill were to pass into law, the Israeli government has also introduced other anti-BDS policies, including passing a law last March which bans entrance into the country of foreigners who have openly expressed support for the BDS movement.
In January 2016, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways of combating BDS, and allocated 100 million shekels ($26 million) of that year’s annual budget to this campaign. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has also targeted Israeli human rights groups with legislation that, according to such groups, is aimed at weeding out criticism against Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that he would seek to push forward ever more stringent regulations of foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, a move that has been denounced as another attempt to stifle human rights organizations in Israel.