The Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee approved a first reading of a bill on Wednesday making it easier to sue boycott advocates, amid arguments over who is to blame for the cancellation of this weekend’s planned Israel-Argentina exhibition soccer match.

The bill would allow Israelis to sue people or organizations who call to boycott Israel for up to NIS 100,000 without proof of damages, and up to NIS 500,000 if they worked systematically to promote boycotts. The language of the bill would include settlement boycotts, and not just boycotts of all of Israel. The current Boycott Law requires proof of damages, and no lawsuits have been brought forward based on the 2011 law.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who proposed the bill, pointed to the timing of the discussion, the morning after reports came out that the Argentinian Football Association canceled a scheduled game in Israel, and many pointed to a massive anti-Israel boycott campaign over the game.

“We must be united in the face of BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] and make a clear call that Israel cannot be boycotted,” Kisch said.

“There is no doubt that the work of [Palestinian Football Association chairman and convicted terrorist] Jibril Rajoub was significant in bringing about the cancellation of the game,” the Likud MK added. “This tool is meant to harm those who are trying to harm us.”

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The Constitution Committee’s legal adviser, Gur Blai, pointed out that the bill is mostly implementable inside Israel and in most cases will not be used against BDS organizations abroad.

Blai also said the bill “brings up constitutional difficulties,” and that calls for a boycott still fall under freedom of expression. In addition, he pointed to a High Court of Justice decision on an earlier version of the Boycott Law, which ruled out lawsuits without proof of damages.

“There is a lot of tension between the ruling and the bill as it is worded today,” he lamented.

Joint List MK Dov Henin suggested that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev could be sued for the Argentina game’s cancellation under the new law. Critics have argued that Regev is to blame for the development, because she pushed for the friendly match to be moved from Haifa to Jerusalem, including providing government funding for the move.

“You are taking the State of Israel to a place in which it is encouraging boycotts against itself. Therefore, if we read the original bill, it must be enacted against Culture Minister Regev who brought about a boycott of Israel. MK Kisch should initiate an investigation against her,” Henin said.

Similarly, Meretz MK Mossi Raz said, “If you want to implement the law, put Miri Regev on trial.... The whole purpose of this bill is to limit freedom of speech. I am against boycotts of Israel and for boycotts of illegal settlements, which are immoral.... Boycotting is a legitimate tool in Judaism. A man who refuses to give his wife a divorce can be boycotted [or excommunicated], so why not for other reasons?”

Former sportscaster MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) said “This is a knock-out from Argentina because of the politicization, and the Jerusalemization. It’s clear this game would have happened if not for the minister’s intervention.”

Likud MK Bennie Begin, however, said Argentina’s decision was an “own goal.”

Still, Begin suggested that the text of the bill be changed: “We are in a constant tension between the right to free speech and other needs. We must always see how we can harm [free speech] less and not allow our enemies to hurt us.”

After Wednesday’s committee vote, the bill will have to go through a first reading, more committee discussions, and then a second and third reading before becoming law.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has also asked that the bill be brought back for it to review before the first reading, and until then, the coalition will not be instructed to support the bill.

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