Jewish BDS activists anxiously eye travel ban

Israel has decried the BDS movement as antisemitic for its attempt to isolate the country.

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March 9, 2017 04:01
3 minute read.
BDS Amman

SAY NO to this. A Jordanian policeman stands guard near a protester holding a placard urging to boycott Israeli companies and products, in front of the Prime Minister’s office building in Amman.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A subset of American supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements, many with strong Jewish upbringings, have found their access to Israel under increased scrutiny, after the Knesset passed a law on Monday allowing the Interior Ministry to ban BDS activists and supporters from the country.

“Sarah” (not her real name) is one such supporter who has lived in Israel for more than a year and is married to an Israeli. The new law now has the 29-year-old New York native questioning her family’s future in Israel.

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(All of the BDS activists and supporters who spoke to The Jerusalem Post declined to reveal their names, fearing being banned from Israel or facing retribution in the workplace.) “I am planning to have kids. I’ve been married to an Israeli for a few years and I am thinking on a personal level how this law will affect my plans,” said Sarah, who founded chapters of the pro- BDS Jewish Voice for Peace organization in the United States and works for a human rights organization in Israel.

“This information can be easily Googled. It doesn’t take long to find out that I’ve been part of [BDS] activities,” she said. “What’s the impact if my kids want to visit their grandparents in Israel? Will I not be able to go with them?”

The law, which passed in a 46-to-28 vote, allows the Interior Ministry to refuse entry or residency visas to non-Israelis if they have “issued a public call” to boycott Israel – including settlements in the West Bank – or have stated their intention to participate in a boycott. However, it is unclear how a “public call” is defined and the ministry is still determining how the law will be enforced.

The BDS movement, which rose to prominence in the mid-2000s, is a loosely connected group of activists and organizations that seek to pressure Israel economically and politically. According to its official website, the movement seeks to end the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.”

Israel has decried the movement as antisemitic for its attempt to isolate the country.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan maintains that BDS is akin to terrorism because it entails a “rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

“Elisa,” a 23-year-old Jewish American who is a vocal advocate of boycotting the settlements, is worried she may not be able to continue her artwork in Israel. “I am scared to make certain paintings because I don’t want to be placed on some government blacklist,” she said.

The New Jersey native asked: “If I ‘like’ or share something from IfNotNow, Haaretz, Jewish Voice for Peace, will that have me blacklisted?” Elisa said the BDS ban has made her less likely to apply for citizenship. “If the government bans me because of my political beliefs, it makes me not want to become a part this society even more."

"It pushes away thousands of progressive Jewish Americans like myself who support the State of Israel but are against settlements and instills even more dissonance in being here, living here and contributing to culture here.”

For other Jewish activists from America, the fear of being barred from Israel has had the opposite effect, pushing them toward utilizing the 1950 Law of Return, which affords every Jew the right to obtain Israeli citizenship.

“Steven,” a 24-year-old Jewish American, also from New Jersey, obtained his Israeli citizenship before the new law was passed, after seeing non-Jewish BDS activists denied entry to the country.

“When I was living in Ramallah a few friends of mine were deported for engaging in innocuous behavior,” he said. “Seeing that first-hand scared me and I felt that if I wanted to have access to Israel and Palestine I needed legal protection.”

Israel entrance on December 5 to Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, a citizen of Malawi and assistant general secretary of the World Council of Churches, allegedly due to her support of BDS.

Jennifer Gorovitz, an official with the New Israel Fund, was delayed and questioned at Ben-Gurion Airport upon her arrival last month. She said that the officer interviewing her had a document that said “BDS” on it.

For Sarah, who plans on having children with her Israeli husband, the travel ban does not increase her desire to emigrate from her native New York; however, she said such a move “might just be necessary.”


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