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Israeli Travel Ban Draws Fire

The new law would stop some pro-Israel groups from visiting the Jewish state if they have publicly called for boycotts of Israel’s settlements.

GettyImages-1166640
GettyImages-1166640

The United States isn’t the only county pulling up the drawbridges: Israel just passed a law that bars entry to foreigners who support boycotts of Israel or the territories it controls.

The law, which passed Israel’s Knesset Monday on a 46-28 vote, could block many self-described Zionists and even some American rabbis and tour operators from traveling to Israel, depending on how broadly it is applied. It drew condemnation from several U.S. pro-Israel groups, who warned that quashing free speech would play into the hands of Israel’s opponents.

“Israel should never take actions that reinforce the Far Left’s claim that Israel and its supporters use the power of the state to violate the freedom of speech of their opponents,” said Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, which describes itself as a progressive Zionist organization in New York.

The United States isn’t the only county pulling up the drawbridges: Israel just passed a law that bars entry to foreigners who support boycotts of Israel or the territories it controls.

The law, which passed Israel’s Knesset Monday on a 46-28 vote, could block many self-described Zionists and even some American rabbis and tour operators from traveling to Israel, depending on how broadly it is applied. It drew condemnation from several U.S. pro-Israel groups, who warned that quashing free speech would play into the hands of Israel’s opponents.

“Israel should never take actions that reinforce the Far Left’s claim that Israel and its supporters use the power of the state to violate the freedom of speech of their opponents,” said Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, which describes itself as a progressive Zionist organization in New York.

The law sends a message that “as far as the Israeli political establishment is concerned, legitimate political expression is verboten,” Debra DeLee, CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said. The Washington-based pro-Israel group has publicly supported boycotts of Israeli settlements.

The new law bars entry to anyone who makes a “public call” in support of cultural, academic or economic boycotts of Israel or areas it controls. Its supporters say it is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the global campaign to apply political and economic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and comply with other demands. But critics say its true aim is to silence people who support Israel but who do not agree with its settlements policy.

The law comes as Israeli politics have shifted increasingly rightward after the election in 2015. Last month, Israel passed another law allowing the seizure of Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank for construction of settlements. Palestinians have asked Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the law.

The entry law would apply to advocates of boycotts of Israeli settlements and could possibly sweep in people who have merely voiced opposition to settlements, depending on how it is applied.

T’ruah, a North American rabbinical human rights group, doesn’t support boycotts, but stands against any further investment in the settlement construction, according to the group’s executive director, Jill Jacobs. She said she’s waiting to see whether it will affect people who have signaled a level of opposition to the settlements short of actually calling for boycotts — such as her organization’s 1,800 rabbis, or tour operators with policies of not traveling to the occupied territories.

Israeli authorities will also have to sort out what constitutes a “public call” for a boycott and whether social media posts — such as someone “liking” a Facebook post advocating a boycott — would trigger the ban.

Jacobs said she was less concerned with the mechanics of the law than the message it sends about Israel’s stance on speech.

“Really, what I’m concerned about is the future of Israel and Israel’s democracy,” she said. “It’s not just that it doesn’t look good, it’s fundamentally destructive to everything that the Jewish state should stand for.”

Photo credit: DAVID SILVERMAN/Getty Images

Correction, March 7, 2017: Debra DeLee is the CEO of Americans for Peace Now. A previous version of this article misspelled her name.

Jessica Holzer is an editor at Foreign Policy. She previously covered financial regulation for The Wall Street Journal.

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