An academic backlash has erupted in Israel over proposed new laws, backed by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, to criminalise a handful of Israeli professors who openly support a campaign against the continuing occupation of the West Bank.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has gained rapid international support since Israeli troops stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla of aid ships in May, killing nine activists. Israeli attention has focused on the small number of activists, particularly in the country's universities, who have openly supported an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
A protest petition has been signed by 500 academics, including two former education ministers, following recent comments by Israel's education minister, Gideon Saar, that the government intends to take action against the boycott's supporters. A proposed bill introduced into the Israeli parliament the Knesset would outlaw boycotts and penalise their supporters. Individuals who initiated, encouraged or provided support or information for any boycott or divestment action would be made to pay damages to the companies affected. Foreign nationals involved in boycott activity would be banned from entering Israel for 10 years, and any "foreign state entity" engaged in such activity would be liable to pay damages.
Saar last week described the petition as hysterical and an attempt to silence contrary opinions. While the vast majority of the signatories do not support an academic boycott of Israel, they have joined forces over what they regard as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Israel.
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