Boycotters of Israel upset that Israel is boycotting them
On Monday night (March 6), Israel’s parliament (the Knesset) passed in its second and final reading a law barring the entry of foreign nationals who have “knowingly and publicly” called for boycotting Israel or who “represent an organization” that calls for such a boycott.
The law extends the ban to those foreign visitors (excluding permanent residents) who back the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement and to those who support the boycott of settlement goods in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank.
The legislation, which passed with 46 votes in favor and 28 against, was sponsored by center-right political parties and had been in the works for over a year, as discussed in detail in my prior post, Will Israel Bar Entry of Foreign BDS Activists?
As noted, the law aims to combat anti-Israel, BDS-promoting tourist activism that’s gone on unimpeded in the country for years. These foreign activists foment and participate in often violent protests, then take film of the Israeli police response in order to demonize Israel in furtherance of the boycott movement.
To my mind, it’s a perfectly reasonable move for Israel to prevent foreigners from abusing tourist visas in order to try to destroy Israel.
How Israel’s New Anti-BDS Entry Law Will Work
The new legislation is supposed to improve the current situation by replacing an existing law that grants any foreign visitor from a friendly country an automatic 3-month entry visa, except for those who the Interior Minister specifically barred.
The new law flips the situation around such that entry for individuals affiliated with designated pro-BDS organizations would be automatically banned, unless the Interior Minister allows it.
So a key component of the law is “shifting the burden” from the state to the foreign activists themselves. Now, instead of the Ministry of the Interior having to account for why someone shouldn’t be admitted into the country, it’ll be up to the BDS-supporting visitors to “persuade the state” why she or he should be allowed in.
The law aims to address the absurd situation that’s developed in Israel where foreign BDS activists enter Israel under false pretenses and routinely take advantage of automatically issued tourist visas to engage in political warfare against the state.
Every nation on the planet is entitled to control its borders and determine which foreign nationals can enter. Israel isn’t particularly unique in refusing entry to people determined to be threats to the state, but the law makes such bans more transparent because individuals would no longer be refused entry into Israel on a case-by-case basis, left solely up to the discretion of the government.
I wrote in my prior post:
By making the default option not to grant a visa unless the government says otherwise, the new law would effectively identify and advertise which of the dozens of NGOs currently operating inside Israel are deemed to be harmful to the Jewish state.”
Bottom line: As Naftali Bennett—education minister and leader of the Jewish Home party—said on Twitter (see in Hebrew below) when it passed, the law is “necessary and logical” and “let’s Israel defend itself from those who wish it ill.”
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) March 6, 2017
Barring Entry Only to Major BDS Leaders Who Call for Israel’s Destruction
Will a left-wing Jewish American college student who tweeted using the hashtag #BDS or who called for a boycott on her Facebook page be turned away at Ben Gurion Airport because of the new anti-BDS entry law?
What about someone who made a one-time donation to a BDS-supporting organization, or who signed a pro-BDS petition at some point in the last few years?
None of these people would be blocked (although, as I noted in my prior post, there’s always the chance that an over-zealous Interior Ministry official will enforce the law improperly).
The law is meant to advance steps to “oppose those who call for Israel’s demise.” But it’s supposed to apply to “major BDS activists” and foreign BDS campaigners “with standing” who can “really impact the situation” by getting others to boycott Israel. It’ll apply to “known organizations” and their main activists and won’t involve any “blacklists” of other individuals.
It certainly won’t be applied to someone who just “posts a comment on Facebook against Israel.”
In the category of those who would be blocked from entry by the new law are BDS-backing foreigners who spend their time in Israel not doing touristy things but collecting false information and ‘evidence’ about Israel’s alleged perfidy and malevolence to spread on social media and to share back home to captive audiences.
Also included will be BDS activists who act to harass and obstruct IDF and security personnel by organizing or participating in violent protests, making contact with representatives of terror organizations, and inciting Palestinians or Jewish settlers to violence.
I noted in my prior post that those foreigners affiliated with the virulently anti-Israel and BDS-supporting groups like the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), CODEPINK, and Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) are perfect examples of the types of activists likely to be barred under the new law.
Yesterday, one of the law’s main sponsors, MK Roy Folkman of the centrist Kulanu party, confirmed in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that it’s the representatives of precisely such groups that he had in mind: the “law only applies to activists in organizations which have the goal of delegitimizing Israel.”
And even then, Folkman noted that exceptions would be made:
someone who is denied a request to visit Israel for an undefined period might be granted entry to come to a specific conference for a limited period of time.”
A Statement from NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg
Ultimately, the law passed because enough lawmakers realized that voters want the government to address BDS, rightly viewing it as the “new front in the war against Israel.”
I am not a fan of the new law. It was political decision and as in other democratic societies, should be analyzed and understood in that context. The simple politics are that a significant portion of the Israeli public demands a response to the demonization and political warfare embodied in BDS and related forms of political warfare. But the law does not give the government significantly new powers—substantively, it was unnecessary. Israel, like all countries, already had the power to restrict the entry of individuals and organizations on the basis of various criteria including incitement to violence and hate. At the same time, the law was written relatively carefully and with specific definitions (compared to other such initiatives) in the attempt to avoid being overturned by the high court.”
Steinberg has a point.
I highlighted in my earlier post that the most persuasive criticism of the new anti-boycott law is that it’s redundant because existing law already gives the Interior Ministry considerable leeway to ban people from entering the country.
Even without the new law, BDS activists have run the risk of being turned away by border control. In fact, there’s been an uptick of these expulsions in recent months.
Still, my thinking is that the statute isn’t as “foolish” as people claim. It could be beneficial in the fight against BDS for at least three reasons:
First, because the law would potentially provide a more transparent rationale for visa refusals, condemnations over the revoking of visas should actually diminish—thus depriving BDS activists and organizations of sensationalist publicity of Israeli wrong-doing. With a list of NGOs that cause harm to the state and its people available to the public and the media, making what now looks like arbitrary and unjustified deportations would be shown to be fully warranted.
Second, in order to secure access to Israel under the terms of the new law, foreign groups and NGOs may try to “negotiate” their proposed activities. This can mean fewer opportunities for activists to incite trouble and instigate violence while in country and perhaps reduced possibilities for getting propaganda footage for the media and communities abroad.
Third, by broadening the pool of high-profile boycotters to include those who call for limiting the economic, academic, and cultural boycott to settlements and to goods produced there (like the well-known Jewish-American columnist and liberal political commentator Peter Beinart), the new law puts these “BDS-lite” tourist activists on notice that Israel will no longer tolerate the demonization of settlers as thieves and war criminals.
Nor will it issue tourist visas to those who seek to harm the lives and livelihoods of Jews who make their homes in the West Bank.
Israel’s first responsibility is to advance the welfare and wellbeing of all its citizens, both within and beyond the Green Line—not to “assuage the consciences” of anti-occupation, settlement-boycotting American Jews.
Complaints About The New Law
Over the past 48 hours, an array of leftist Israeli and U.S. Jewish groups, politicians, and columnists (see, for example, here, here, here, and here) have described the passage of Israel’s new anti-BDS entry law as:
- “damaging to Israel’s democracy”
- “outrageous and moronic”
- “silencing opposition”
- “anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish in its very essence”
- “curtailing freedom of speech” and
- “thought control.”
But the reality is that the new law doesn’t have any fundamental problem in relation to freedom of expression. It won’t censor legitimate criticism of Israeli policy or settlements and won’t make Israel any less of a “free-thinking society.”
Provided it’s implemented correctly, the law is also likely to have some downstream benefits in combatting the anti-Israel BDS movement.
What the government envisions doing under the law—tackling some of the most egregious forms of fraudulent tourism subterfuge going on in Israel today by denying entry to high-profile boycott-promoting campaigners—is what any country on the planet would do.
It’s too bad some American Jewish leaders don’t see it that way.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, America’s largest Jewish denomination, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem that the new law would isolate Israel:
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.”
This is just silly.
It’s a complete misreading of the legislation, which won’t be authorizing any “blacklists” of individuals and isn’t targeted at foreigners who are merely critical of the settlements. So, it won’t be “problematic” at all for American Jews who care about Israel.
Bottom line: If your goal is to harm Israel, don’t bother coming
There’s simply no nation in the world that issues visas to people who seek to delegitimize, vilify, and harm its citizenry and agitate for the destruction of the host country.
On this issue, as with all other matters, Israel should be judged by the same standards as everyone else.
[Featured Image: American anti-Israel BDS activist Ariel Gold arrested during rock throwing protest 2015, via IsraellyCool]
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElmanDONATE
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