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13 Jan, 2017 11:43

‘Recipe for isolation’: Israel may ban entry to boycott supporters

‘Recipe for isolation’: Israel may ban entry to boycott supporters

Public support for boycotting Israel over settlements in Palestinian territories may become grounds for barring people from entering Israel. Critics say punishing people for Facebook posts would alienated the nation and could be used to oppress Palestinians.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a global movement aimed at putting pressure on Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territories by, for example, obstructing international trade in products from the Israeli settlements located in the territories. Israel, which is fighting BDS in various ways, may soon find a new tool in its arsenal.

This Wednesday, the Israeli parliament’s Interior Committee approved a bill which would allow the Interior Ministry to ban any person from entering Israel who publicly supports the boycott of Israel-linked entities. Members of pro-BDS organizations, and even people who express support for the boycott on social media, may be shown the door after arriving in Israel. Israeli citizens and permanent residents would be exempt.

The bill passed its first reading in the Knesset in November 2016, with sponsors citing the need to protect Israel.

“This bill is meant to prevent those who want to fight us from entering,” said bill sponsor Bezalel Smotrich from the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party.

“BDS is against Israel, not just Judea and Samaria. So what are you afraid of? Today we are taking the first step in getting past that fear,” he added, using the Hebrew term for the West Bank which stresses the Israeli claim on it as part of historic Israel. The international community considers the West Bank a Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel.

The ruling Likud party also favors the bill.

“The bill allows the [interior] minister to act by his own judgment, but the default option is not to grant a visa, unless the minister says otherwise,” committee chairman David Amsalem said during the Wednesday hearings.

“Why should I let someone who slanders the state and harms it into my home? We are not afraid of criticism, but we have our national dignity.”

“If a person that received temporary residency by us comes and harms us, would we let them stay?” he added, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

Critics say banning BDS activists would hurt political debate in Israel and alienate foreign progressives, while doing nothing to protect Israel from harm.

“Immigration law isn’t supposed to deal with ideology or politics,” told Haaretz Oded Feller, head of the legal department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

“How would Israelis feel if another country decided not to let Israelis in as tourists because they advocate for settlements which are against international law and people started getting turned away? It’s absurd to start policing borders based on what people think.”

Lex Rofes, from the anti-occupation group IfNotNow, called the bill “a recipe for isolation that is practically designed to push people away from Israel.”

“People shouldn’t be welcome or unwelcome based on their views regarding the occupation. Settlement boycott has broad and growing support in the US – it is a mainstream idea,” he said.

Yadin Elam, a Tel Aviv attorney who specializes in immigration law, said Israeli law already gives the authorities a way to bar people from entering Israel without any explanation.

“Except for declarative value of this bill, I really don’t see its benefit other than that it serves as another law to strengthen the status of the settlements,” he told the newspaper.

He added that pro-BDS activists are already at risk of being denied visas and that the number of cases is increasing. He also believes that the new law will be used against “people who hold opinions that are too left-wing, as far as the current government sees it.”

There are also concerns that the bill would be used to target Palestinians who do not have permanent residency in Israel, but have family members who do. The committee rejected a proposed exemption in the bill.