A security officer stands near closed El Al check-in counters in the departure hall at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
The case of the World Council of Churches official barred entry from Israel due to allegations that she has supported boycotting the country was heard by a Jerusalem court on Thursday.
The state argued that Israel faces a wave of delegitimization, case arose before a 2017 law empowered the state to deny entry to BDS supporters, the state argued that its power to deny entry on a discretionary basis predated that law. It also argued that the courts can only override the government’s position on denial of entry in very extreme cases of overreach and that this case does not meet that standard.
“Policy-makers and the courts will decide whether Isabel Phiri should be allowed into Israel. But there should be no doubt about the deeply problematic nature of the World Council of Churches, with a long history of antisemitism and anti-Israel hostility,” noted Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor. “Its most grievous sin is EAPPI [Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel], for which this is no parallel anywhere in the world and is a vehicle for training BDS activists.”
NGO Monitor said that the EAPPI, which brings thousands of volunteers to the West Bank to “witness life under occupation,” receives direct and indirect funding from various European governments and church organizations.
Defending Phiri, human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said that the state has been a problematic moving target in this case, constantly changing its reasons for denying her entry.
He said that originally the state gave her a document denying her entry alleging that she was trying to illegally become a resident.
While the state had dropped this ground, Sfard told the court that defeating this bogus argument alone was grounds to allow Phiri to enter.
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Continuing, he said that the evidence brought to show she supports boycotts of Israel failed to prove anything.
As an example, he said that a photo she posted of an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at a Palestinian had not been attacked as doctored and, therefore, what the state implied was that merely expressing a political opinion can be viewed as support for BDS.
Sfard also said that there were a range of obvious factual errors in the report submitted against Phiri.
The court said it would review the issue further before making a decision.
This case comes as the parallel cases of American student Lara Alqasem
and of Human Rights Watch official Omar Shakir, who were denied entry into Israel based on BDS support, are before various courts.
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