Israel is confident that Chile will not turn Jerusalem’s decision to bar entry to a Chilean BDS activist into a full-blown diplomatic crisis and that the mutually beneficial relations between the two countries will continue to flourish, Foreign Ministry officials said over the weekend.Last Monday, Israel barred Anwar Makhlouf, the executive director of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, from entry into Israel at the Allenby Crossing with Jordan.Chile’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Wednesday condemned Israel’s move, calling it “unacceptable.” The ministry noted that it had made its opposition known to the Israeli Embassy in Santiago, and said that similar steps should not be repeated in the future.
The controversy moved legislators to call on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to summon its ambassador to Israel for consultations in protest of the move, a proposal unanimously approved by the senate on Wednesday. Several politicians are also calling on the government to suspend an agreement that allows for visa-free travel between Israel and Chile.President of the Chilean Community in Israel Gabriel Colodro told The Jerusalem Post that on Monday, a group of about a dozen senators – along with other politicians and representatives of the Palestinian Federation – are due to meet with Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz Valenzuela to discuss the two measures.The Chilean community in Israel took issue with the Foreign Ministry’s description of Makhlouf as a “mere interpreter and tour guide.” A statement signed by Colodro said, “In addition to publicly supporting terrorist groups like Hamas, he belongs to a movement which promotes racist strategies in Chile, the so-called Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”He also stressed that Makhlouf has said that visits by the Palestinian Federation are an opportunity “to create political identity” for its members, which Colodro says was “very distant” from the description the Foreign Ministry gave in its statement.Chile, with some 500,000 citizens of Palestinian descent, has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East. Arabs from Ottoman Palestine – mostly Christian – began arriving in Chile at the end of the 19th century.The decision to deny Makhlouf entry to Israel followed the recent passage in the Knesset of a law empowering the Interior Ministry to refuse entry and residency visas to non-Israelis if they have issued a public call to boycott Israel – including settlements – or have stated their intention to participate in a boycott.Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Eitan Weiss said that Israel and Chile “enjoy excellent and mutually beneficial relations.”Each year, he said, “many Chileans of every background and political view freely visit Israel. However, Israel has the sovereign right and responsibility to prevent the entry of specific individuals who actively work against its interests or citizens.”Weiss said that Makhlouf is a “well-known activist and promoter of the BDS movement. As such, he acts to deny Israeli citizens around the world their basic rights, including freedom of speech, the right to trade, academic freedom and more. Therefore, his entry to Israel has been denied.”Weiss said Israel is “confident that this issue will not have any negative effects, and that relations between Israel and Chile will continue to flourish.”The Jewish community in Chile said in a statement that it was “surprised” by the communiqué condemning Israel’s action issued by Chile’s Foreign Ministry, given that the Chilean ministry had itself a few days earlier justified a decision to bar entry to Bolivian Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira for referring to the Chilean government and president in “injurious” terms and calling for a boycott of Chilean products.Ferreira has denied the Chilean allegations against him.Drawing a comparison between the two decisions, the statement said that “Israel, like any other sovereign country, has the legitimate right to prevent entry to a person who incites against the recognition of Israel’s existence,” and who insults it and publicly calls for a boycott of its products. The community also noted that 10 other Chileans traveling with Makhlouf entered Israel without any problem and stressed that the decision against Makhlouf was based solely on his “constant aggression toward that country and his permanent calls to hatred and boycott.”“The Jewish community of Chile supports the right of countries to defend their sovereignty and safeguard their integrity,” the statement concluded.
Anti-Israel activists, supporting the boycott or BDS movement, protest in New York, July 24, 2014 (credit: REUTERS)