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US bars BDS co-founder from boarding DC-bound plane in Israel, despite valid travel papers

US bars BDS co-founder from boarding DC-bound plane in Israel, despite valid travel papers
The co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has been denied entry to the US, where he had a speaking tour scheduled, despite having valid travel documents. This was done in Tel Aviv on US, not Israeli, orders.

Airline staff at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport informed Omar Barghouti on Wednesday as he prepared to board his flight to Washington that the US consulate had been ordered by US immigration authorities not to allow him to travel, even though he has a US visa valid through January 2021.

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Barghouti was given no explanation for the US' decision to bar him from the country beyond an "immigration matter," according to the Arab American Institute, which had invited the activist to Washington, DC for a series of speaking engagements and classes. He had also scheduled events at Harvard University and New York University, meetings with "leading policy makers, thought-leaders and journalists," and – before heading home – his daughter's wedding.

The State Department refused to comment on the matter, telling NPR, "Visa records are confidential under US law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases."

While Barghouti, who is a Palestinian and has permanent residency status in Israel, has had problems traveling in the past, Israeli authorities were always responsible, most recently in February when they refused to renew his travel documents until Amnesty International interceded with a demand that the country "end the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defender Omar Barghouti." Aryeh Deri, the interior minister, has accused him of "using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner."

"It is clear this arbitrary political decision is motivated by this administration's effort to silence Palestinian voices," AAI President James Zogby said of the US' move. "At a time when some members of Congress are advocating for regressive anti-BDS bills and resolutions, when states have passed legislation targeting the non-violent boycott movement in violation of our protected First Amendment rights, it is disturbing that policy makers and the American people will not have the opportunity to hear from Omar directly."

More than half of US states have passed laws to economically sanction or otherwise penalize companies or individuals that boycott Israel, and federal legislation targeting BDS has even included attempts to criminalize such boycotts – a measure opponents slammed as profoundly unconstitutional as it failed to pass last year.

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The BDS movement launched in 2005 as a nonviolent protest against Israel's construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, as well as its military occupation of the territory and other acts of violence and oppression against the Palestinians. Likening the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa, it uses many of the same tactics activists used to pressure that country into dropping its racist policies. Israel has accused the movement of seeking to "delegitimize" the country and recently barred the leaders of 20 US-based BDS-supporting organizations from entering Israel. The minister of transport, intelligence and foreign affairs has called on Israel to engage in "targeted civil eliminations" of the movement's leaders.

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