Israel's Netanyahu defends ban on boycotts of settler products
Israel's prime minister Wednesday defended a controversial law passed by the country's parliament which bans boycotts against products from Jewish settlements, DPA reported.
"I am against boycotts directed against Israeli citizens," Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel's parliament, during a stormy debate called by the opposition.
Opponents of Israel's settlements were entitled to voice their opinions, "but harming (the income of) families, harming children who live in Ariel, or Ma'aleh Adumim, or Gush Etzion, in my eyes that is not a legitimate step," the premier told the Knesset.
Ariel is the largest settlement in the heart of the northern West Bank, while Maáleh Adumim and Gush Etzion are settlement blocks near Jerusalem.
The boycott law was passed in the Knesset late Monday, sparking a storm of criticism.
It makes calling for a boycott against Israel a civil offence.
Settlers whose companies are harmed can now sue anyone who makes a public call for a boycott against their products.
Israeli human rights groups have slammed the law as unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of speech.
The Israeli Peace Now movement responded by issuing a defiant public call for a boycott of settlement products.
Within two days, at least 6,580 people clicked "like" on a Hebrew Facebook page opened by Peace Now, titled "So sue me, I boycott settlement products."
Amnesty International too called the law an attack on freedom of expression.
"Despite proponents' claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent," said Philip Luther, the Middle East deputy director of the London-headquartered rights group.
Forty members of the 120-seat Knesset had called the debate on what they termed the "failure" of Netanyahu government's policies.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the 28-seat Kadima party, who had slammed the new law, charged the premier was "spreading hatred" and did not understand the meaning of democracy.
Arab-Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi was ushered out when she heckled Netanyahu.