The Rule of Law

One of the big headlines in Israel this week is that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled to allow a student to enter the country to attend Hebrew University in a Master’s program even though this student has a history of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel. It was among the first test cases of the anti-BDS entry law that Israel passed last year blocking entry to Israel of people who actively advocate BDS and act against Israel. (*Note: this is not the law that allows suing for damages if Israel is harmed by BDS activism. That was a different test case.)

Crash course on Israel’s governmental structure

Israel is not at all like the US system and is much more similar to the UK system. The Prime Minister is the head of the party that wins the election (thus the executive branch and legislative branch are combined). The President of Israel is a ceremonial position and is filled by a person elected by the Knesset, usually after a long career in politics. The President appoints the 15-member Supreme Court based on the recommendations of a judicial committee. Judges on the Supreme Court may serve until the age of 70 unless they resign for other reasons.

The Supreme Court in Israel serves two functions. Like the US Supreme Court, it is the final court of appeal. But unlike the US Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in Israel – operating as the High Court of Justice – may also hear petitions to rule on the legality of laws or other issues that would not normally be heard in a court of law. Since Israel doesn’t have a constitution, the Court uses the Basic Laws of Israel as its guide.

In 2017, a law was passed in the Knesset that said that a non-citizen who actively uses a public forum to call for a boycott of Israel and has a reasonable expectation of causing a boycott to occur, can be barred from entering Israel. This more-or-less applies to leaders of organizations, not someone who supports BDS on Facebook.


It’s pretty divisive issue in Israel. The Left says that the law and its application violates freedom of speech and that Israel has nothing to hide. The Right points out that the democratically elected members of Knesset are acting on behalf of the will of the people and defending Israel at the border against enemy agents trying to destroy Israel from within.

Other BDS activists/supporters have been turned away at the airport, but the student in question here decided to take it to court.

The Court ruled that the law itself was in accordance with the Basic Laws, but that it did not apply in the student’s case. She claimed not to be involved in BDS for the last year and a half and was not planning to be a BDS activist while in Israel. So she’ll be starting at Hebrew U. next week.

Two comments

Academia the world over tends to lean to the left and it’s the case in Israel too. There are a good number of Israeli academics who support the BDS movement – even if it sometimes backfires and they themselves are uninvited to conferences or blackballed in publications. So while it seems on the face of it that the student wanting to attend Hebrew University, and who was backed in court by Hebrew U., is not supportive of BDS, I’m not so sure that it is quite so clear-cut. I guess we’ll see what this student does while she’s here.

This court case is a microcosm of the existential question of what kind of state Israel will be. Will Israel be a state of wide-ranging freedom for all or a repressive state that only allows opinions that agree with the majority?

And that’s where the Court comes in. It should not be a question of political Left or Right, but a question of what is just, not only legal. When the Court took upon itself the responsibility of protecting human rights, the Right called it an “activist court.” And when the Court allows a law to stand that the Left feels is repressive, the Left calls the Court a “rubber stamp.” The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. The Court must act to stop tyranny of the majority, but they must also allow the state to act on behalf of the safety and security of its citizens. The principle is simple, the application is complicated.

“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” – Deuteronomy 16:20


Palace of Justice, Jerusalem

Matisyahu and the BDS of Spain

Here’s one verse from Matisyahu’s song “One Day

One Day - Matisyahu

One Day – Matisyahu

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play

Matisyahu was invited to participate in a reggae festival in Spain and then he was told that his participation would be cancelled unless he provided an unequivocal statement supporting the creation a Palestinian state.  Huh?

Matisyahu is Jewish, but he’s American, not Israeli.  And he was the only person asked to provide a political statement in order for him to participate in the festival.  The festival buckled to threats by the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) movement in Spain who threatened to disrupt the festival.

There was an international reaction and El Pais wrote a strong op-ed against the festival’s action and the BDS movement.  A couple of days later, the festival reinvited Matisyahu with apologies.  I didn’t see any recent posts about whether or not he’s going to accept and play the festival. (UPDATE at the bottom of the page.)

That’s the short version of what happened.  There is a lot more that could be said about the event itself and certainly a lot more that can be said about the BDS movement in general.  I just want to shine a light on two things:

  1. Threats of violence are not the way to bring about true peace;
  2. If the BDS movement is focused on Israel, why are they targeting an American Jew and if they want to help Palestinians, why are they silent about Palestinians who are suffering in Syria (for example)?

I’m an advocate of voting with your feet or spending your money to further your beliefs.  If you have an issue with Israel’s policies, then by all means boycott.  I think it’s a great expression of freedom.

But here’s the problem.  If the BDS movement wants to encourage people to boycott, why exactly are they doing it by threatening violence?  There are plenty of stories of singers who canceled their concerts in Israel because their lives or families were threatened.  (See here, here, here.) What version of peace, love, and understanding includes death threats?

Playing the devil’s advocate, let’s say that the violence represents their call for a revolution.  Aren’t they actually replacing one allegedly oppressive regime with another?  Believe like us or we will destroy you and your family.  Really?  That’s how you want to change the world?

Those in the BDS movement that reject violence are still disingenuous.  They claim to want to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians.  Apparently, they only care about Palestinians in Israel because I haven’t heard any outrage whatsoever regarding bombings of Palestinian villages (refugee camps) in Syria.

Let’s get back to Matisyahu.  Take a look again at his lyrics.  “Don’t wanna fight no more . . . no more war . . . our children will play.”  The BDS movement in Spain says cancel his performance or we will seriously disrupt the festival.  The festival buckles under pressure and requests a single performer to make a political statement about a country he doesn’t even live in.  Who is really advocating for a better world?  Who is looking at the bigger picture and asking us to go outside of ourselves and embrace life and peace?  It’s not the BDS or the embarrassed festival organizers.  I suggest that they explore the meaning of hypocrisy.

It’s time for a champion
Soothe the soul of the land
Mend the heart from the sea and the sand
‘Til the sun comes up again

Sunshine” by Matisyahu

Sunshine - Matisyahu

Sunshine – Matisyahu

Matisyahu and his music are the champions.  Choose life.  Choose peace.  Vote with your feet and your dollars for something worthwhile that truly makes the world a better place.

UPDATE 22 AUG 2015: Matisyahu will be performing at the festival.
UPDATE #2 23 AUG 2015: Matisyahu sang one of his most famous songs, “Jerusalem,” while facing down protesters waving Palestinian flags in the front rows of the audience.
UPDATE #3 4 SEPT 2015: Matisyahu played at the final day of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival in the Old City of Jerusalem.