BDS travel ban: Is Israel sending the wrong message?

Vague legislation that bans BDS activists and gives too much power to government functionaries sends out the mistaken message that we have something to hide. The opposite is true.

Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement tends to bring together a pretty despicable group of people with distorted attitudes about Israel who are often motivated by antisemitism.
Many, particularly the founders and most active members, tend to utterly oppose the existence of a uniquely Jewish state anywhere, let alone on the land corresponding with the Jewish people’s historic homeland. Propaganda and distorted narratives are deployed to delegitimize Israel as a precursor to bringing about its demise.
Israel is portrayed as an imperialist force in Palestine even though Jewish ties to the land of Israel span 38 centuries of uninterrupted presence.
BDS activists cite human rights as their primarily concern, but in sharp departure from most truly universalistic humanitarians who care about the suffering of all human beings, BDS activists remain indifferent to far greater human rights’ injustices in the region – from Syria and Yemen to Iran and Saudi Arabia.
BDS activists also conveniently ignore the human rights abuses perpetrated by Palestinians against their own people, whether it be the restriction of press freedoms, the curtailing of religious expression or the stifling of all forms of unwanted criticism directed against Hamas or Fatah. Nor do BDS activists seem particularly concerned by the fact that a corrupt political echelon rules Palestinians on the West Bank without a democratic mandate or that Hamas – an antisemitic, reactionary, anti-democratic group of Islamists – rules the Gaza Strip.
We therefore understand the desire on the part of our lawmakers to prevent BDS activists of this sort from entering Israel to spread their noxious ideas. The anti- BDS law passed this week in the Knesset seeks to do just that. The legislation makes it easier to block foreign BDS activists from entering Israel.
Undoubtedly, Israel, like any sovereign state, has the right to regulate its borders and decide who can and who cannot enter. And an argument can be made that BDS activity, like other forms of incitement, risks disrupting the peace and might lead to violent acts against Israelis.
However, we believe that the legislation has the potential to do more harm than good. The law is ambiguous and difficult to enforce. Ostensibly, it is supposed to target only those activists with standing who have the capability to cause others to boycott Israel.
However, the wording of the law is such that it could include less consequential BDS activism. The law also targets individuals who are calling to boycott settlements, a position held by some Meretz MKs who are emphatically Zionist but who are convinced that Israel’s continued control over the West Bank undermines its future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Furthermore, as Israel Democracy Institute researcher Dr. Amir Fuchs noted in an interview with Yonah Jeremy Bob, The Jerusalem Post’s legal analyst, the law makes it easy for low-level functionaries to reject foreigners offhand. This could be done by simply looking at someone’s Facebook page or Twitter feed and deciding that it is not supportive enough of Israel.
That’s what seems to have happened to Jennifer Gorovitz, a New Israel Fund executive and ardent Zionist when she was delayed for a number of hours upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport last month.
With the passage of new anti-BDS legislation, the likelihood of more embarrassing incidents like this will probably increase.
BDS activists’ obsession with Israel smacks of antisemitism, but the best way to combat these people is not via ambiguously worded legislation that gives low-level functionaries inordinate power. We do not want to target individuals who are adamant supporters of a Jewish state, but who believe that holding onto the West Bank with its large Palestinian population is detrimental to Israel’s future.
Israel should be proud of what it has accomplished in such a short period of time while facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. Vague legislation that bans BDS activists and gives too much power to government functionaries sends out the mistaken message that we have something to hide. The opposite is true.