World News

Israel bars groups promoting its boycott from entering country

Posted January 7, 2018 5:56 p.m. EST

— The members of 20 organizations -- including one Jewish organization -- which advocate boycotting Israel will be banned from entering the country. The full list comes from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a governmental department created to fight the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, known as BDS.

"The anti-Israel boycott campaign seeks not to promote peace but to undermine Israel's national security and existence," said Minister Gilad Erdan. "The state of Israel will prevent groups working to undermine its security and core interests from entering Israel."

The list stems from a March 2017 law allowing Israel to deny entry to any nonresident who promotes a boycott of Israel. The final list was put together in collaboration with the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice Ministries. The new regulations are expected to take effect in March 2018, one year after Israel enacted the law enabling the ban.

Critics of the legislation zeroed in on the ban of Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing Jewish organization that advocates the boycott as a nonviolent means of ending Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories while seeking "security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians" and a solution for Palestinian refugees.

"A new crack in the wall of the occupation," tweeted Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of Israel's Knesset. "Minister Erdan has decided to ban Jewish activists who oppose the occupation, although they are entitled to Israeli citizenship by the discriminatory law of return. Oppressive regimes have collapsed because of such internal contradiction."

The "Entry Law," as it's called in Israel, carries an echo of President Donald Trump's travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, which has been partially allowed to go into effect after numerous revisions and legal battles. It was approved by Israel's parliament at virtually the same time Trump issued the second version of his travel ban.

In a press release publicizing the list, the ministry of strategic affairs insisted the ban did not target any specific race or religion, instead targeting "central figures in key boycott organizations" while allowing for humanitarian exceptions.

The ministry said those who have voiced political criticism of Israel will be allowed entry. Only those who have taken "material action" against Israel will be banned. That action is defined as "significant, ongoing and consistent to harm Israel through advocating boycotts."

But critics of the list saw it as nothing more than a travel ban.

"The Netanyahu government's Entry Law, which is a travel ban that uses blacklists and litmus tests to bar visitors from entering Israel based on their beliefs, flies in the face of the democratic principles enshrined in Israel's declaration of independence," said Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund. "We don't have to agree with them to know that banning them from visiting Israel is just wrong."

Israel has lobbied hard against the BDS movement, urging European countries to oppose those who advocate boycotting Israel. President Reuven Rivlin, hosting Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide in Jerusalem on Sunday, said, "You must work against [BDS] no less than we, because it stands in the way of progress." In late-December, Denmark agreed to more closely monitor foreign aid going to Palestinian organizations to prevent it from financing groups that support boycotting Israel.

Celebrating the decision, Erdan said on social media, "We demanded from the European countries that they stop funding [organizations that support boycotting Israel] and now Denmark has made a move in the right direction and the funding will stop."

Last week, Israel approved $36 million to the creation of an agency to help fight the BDS movement, seeking to raise the same amount again from private donors and organizations.

The BDS movement, founded as a grass-roots, nonviolent means of opposing Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories, advocates for an economic boycott of Israel, modeled on the boycott of apartheid-era South Africa. The movement, backed by celebrities such as Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters, has claimed numerous successes in recent years, including pressuring the Israeli beverage company SodaStream to move its facility from the West Bank to Israel. In late December, New Zealand pop star Lorde canceled her concert in Israel after pressure from the BDS movement.