New Israel Law Bans Boycott Activists from Entering Country
Israeli lawmakers on Monday approved a law targeting the growing international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, banning activists who advocate boycotts targeting the Jewish state from entering the country.
The Jerusalem Post reports the Knesset plenum voted 46-28 in favor of the measure, which allows the Interior Ministry to bar any foreigner who is actively involved with the BDS movement or who publicly calls for a boycott of Israel from entering the country. It applies to anyone “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott — if the issuer was aware of this possibility.”
The law also bans visa and residency rights for people advocating boycotts of Israeli institutions in any “area under its control,” including illegal Jewish-only settlements in illegally-occupied Palestinian territories. Prominent BDS supporters, including South African cleric, anti-apartheid hero and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, renowned American author Alice Walker, British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, will now be barred from entering the country, while others, including former US president Jimmy Carter — who won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt but who has accused Israel of practicing apartheid “even worse… than we witnessed in South Africa” — would likely be allowed in. While he has been a fierce critic of Israeli policies and actions, Carter has said that BDS goes too far and is counterproductive.
“We are done turning the other cheek,” MK Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Bayit Yehudi party explained. “In recent years, a new antisemitic front has been initiated against Israel. Our enemies carry out a campaign to delegitimize and boycott Israel. Banning BDS supporters that come here to harm us from within is the minimum we can do [to fight] against those Israel-haters.”
“If someone demeans me, I do not let them into my home,” Knesset Interior Committee Chairman MK David Amsalem of the ruling right-wing Likud party added. “If anyone insults us, we respond; this law is elementary.”
However, other legislators said the law was more about appearances than anything else. MK Zouheir Bahloul of the center-left Zionist Union party called the law part of a competition among conservatives to see “who is more extreme.”
“Instead of fighting to preserve the Israeli democracy, Amsalem is inspired by dark regimes, like the Former Soviet Union, and asks to target everyone who disagrees with the government,” Bahloul told the Jerusalem Post. “The State of Israel creates with it own hands the ammunition for BDS activists and I call for a stop to this madness that this right-wing government is leading us into.”
MK Ayman Odeh of Joint List — an alliance of four Arab-dominated parties — wondered who would decide who is banned from entering Israel, and how, noting he’d met Jews on a recent trip to America who oppose Israel’s occupation and Jews-only settlements in Palestine but support the Jewish state. “I am also against the occupation and for boycotting the settlements, which are a war crime and an act of theft of private land from [Palestinian] people,” Odeh told the Jerusalem Post. “So saying that people cannot enter because they support the boycott of settlements will serve to ensure Israel’s exclusion throughout the world.”
Many US Jewish groups slammed the new law. “It’s going to be a giant sign up by the door of the Jewish state: ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’ I don’t know what kind of democracy makes that statement,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, told the New York Times.
“It’s redefining as an enemy of Israel anyone who does not agree that the settlements are now and forever will be part of Israel,” added Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now. “That’s going to be problematic for a lot of American Jews who care about Israel. It’s just heartbreaking.”
“As history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is, or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel,” American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told the Times of Israel.
The leading US anti-semitism watchdog group, the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted that the “new law harms rather than helps.”
BDS critics claim the ban is a welcome weapon in the fight against anti-Semitism. “The fight against BDS is a fight against anti-Semitism,” Michael Cohen, Eastern US regional director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said earlier in defense of boycott bans, calling the movement an “international campaign to demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel and its Zionist supporters.” However, others accuse Israel and its supporters of seeking to delegitimize valid criticism of Israeli policies and actions condemned by much of the world by portraying those who speak out against them as anti-Semites, or if the critics are Jewish, as “self-hating Jews.”
“It’s a trick,” the late Israeli cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni once acknowledged. “We always use it.”