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Israelis Divided Over Boycott Bill, Poll Finds

Israel Boycott Protest

By MATTI FRIEDMAN   07/15/11 09:02 AM ET   AP

JERUSALEM -- A poll published Friday shows Israelis deeply divided over a law passed this week banning boycotts directed at Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The new law, promoted by politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party, has drawn fierce criticism at home and abroad. Opponents charge the law is undemocratic and, having failed to block its passage in parliament, currently hope the country's Supreme Court strikes it down.

Friday's poll shows 47 percent of Israelis opposed to the law, and the same number in favor.

But 56 percent, including some who said they supported it in theory, said it should never have been passed.

Forty-five percent said they were worried about the future of Israeli democracy.

The Dahaf Institute poll, published in the daily Yediot Ahronot, surveyed 500 people and had an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

The law's hard-line backers were spurred to action by international boycotts of Israel and local initiatives against settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians seek for a future state along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The law was approved Monday in parliament after a fierce debate and has dominated headlines in the country for most of the past week.

The law allows those targeted by political boycotts to sue those boycotting them and could dampen such initiatives even before it is implemented. Even with no proof of damages, boycott organizers can now find themselves paying up to about $9,000 under the new law, said Israeli legal expert Moshe Negbi.

"This is another erosion of Israel's fragile democracy, and we can only hope that the court will stop it – they are the only ones who can," Negbi said Friday.

Netanyahu absented himself from the vote but later said he supported the law.

Emboldened by the bill's success, Netanyahu's hawkish coalition partners and members of his Likud Party have said they will press ahead with a plan to have parliamentary committees investigate the funding of organizations critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

Some lawmakers are also planning legislation that will limit the powers of the Supreme Court, which has served as a defender of individual rights and a check on the actions of the government.

After the outcry surrounding the boycott bill, Netanyahu came out somewhat hesitantly against the bill that would see inquiries directed at dovish groups.

"I don't recommend forming parliamentary commissions of inquiry," he said in a speech late Thursday. "If there are those who think differently, then go ahead. I will allow freedom of voting. I will oppose it."

The bill is considered unlikely to pass.

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Filed by Curtis M. Wong  |