US Jewish groups criticize Israeli bill banning BDS supporters

The legislation bans foreign nationals who publicly call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the territory it controls beyond the Green Line, from entering the country.

March 8, 2017 00:55
2 minute read.
bds boycott

Activists from the BDS movement against Israel [File]. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

NEW YORK - The American Jewish Committee said it is ‘ troubled’ by a new law, adopted by the Knesset on Monday, that will bar supporters of the BDS movement from entering Israel.

The Knesset plenum passed the bill in a 46-28 vote. The legislation bans foreign nationals who publicly call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the territory it controls beyond the Green Line from entering the country. The measure also states that the interior minister may grant exceptions.

“Every nation, of course, is entitled to regulate who can enter, and AJC, a longtime, staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement, fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel,” he added.

The left-wing group J Street also expressed its dismay and said the bill “damages Israel’s democracy and helps the BDS movement.”
Anti-Israel protest outside Israeli embassy in Washington in 2014

“The bill is the latest piece of Israeli legislation to undermine Israel’s own democratic principles and its international standing,” the organization wrote in a statement on Monday. “As a liberal democracy, Israel should be able to tolerate nonviolent political protest and dissent, no matter how much it disagrees with the ideology or goals of BDS supporters.”

J Street made clear that, like the AJC, it is opposed to the BDS movement and does not support any form of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel. However, it believes BDS supporters have a right to their opinions and to nonviolent political action.

“This bill will do nothing to deter the Global BDS movement – indeed it hands them a victory,” the statement continued. “The bill will further isolate the country, validate Israel’s critics and deny many people the opportunity to hear and learn from Israelis and Palestinians first-hand.”

In addition, the organization believes that by failing to meaningfully distinguish between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, the bill validates one of the main charges of the Global BDS movement: that there is no difference between the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the State of Israel within its original borders.

“The Israeli government’s continued insistence that the settlements should be treated the same as Israel within the Green Line advances the interest of a small right-wing minority at the expense of Israel’s long-term interests,” they said.

J Street added that it hopes that “all those who care about Israel’s future and about its democracy will oppose this bill” and urged the Knesset and the government to take steps to overturn or revoke the legislation, which they called “dangerous and counterproductive.”

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