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Israel bans entry to foreigners who support boycotting Israel

Israel’s crackdown on civil society escalated late Monday night as the Knesset voted to ban foreigners who support the boycott of Israeli goods and services from entering the country. The measure comes just days after Israeli authorities barred the entry of a Human Rights Watch researcher – a sign of the right-wing government’s growing hostility toward dissenting voices.

In passing the law, the Israeli authorities gave legal blessing to a practise many activists say was already in place: the denial of entry to supporters of Palestinian rights and to Palestinians who live outside the region.


Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said the law “will only serve to further delegitimize Israel itself,” making it clear that Israel is “fundamentally at odds with the values of democracy and pluralism.”

The law will mainly target activists who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for economic measures against Israel over its discrimination against Palestinians. Israel’s Interior Minister can now bar foreigners – and temporary residents of Israel – from entering the country if they publicly supported the BDS call, which was first published in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups.

However, the Interior Minister can issue a waiver to allow BDS supporters into the country on a case-by-case basis. The law also applies to those who call only for a boycott of West Bank settlements – a position that many liberal Jews around the world take.

Israeli officials say BDS targets Israel unfairly and is tainted by anti-Semitism, and argue that this law is about halting the rise of those who delegitimize the state.

“Every country has the right to determine who enters its border,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Public Security Minister. The Knesset law, Erdan said, is “another step in our struggle against those who seek to delegitimize Israel while hiding behind the language of human rights.”

It is unclear how, exactly, the Interior Minister will determine who supports BDS or boycotts of settlements. But Israeli authorities have barred entry in the past to those who are employed by civil society groups that oppose Israel’s occupation. They have also denied entry to Americans of Palestinian and Arab descent whose support for BDS is easily researched online.

Last year, Israel denied entry to over 16,000 people, a ninefold jump from 2011, according to Haaretz. While the majority were denied to prevent illegal immigration, others were denied because they allegedly posed a threat to security – the reason given to many who have been interrogated over their political beliefs and then refused entry.

But Palestinian rights groups warn that foreigners will not be the only people impacted by the ban. While the law exempts those with residency permits, it can be applied to temporary dwellers, many of whom come from the West Bank and Gaza but are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Over 12,000 Palestinians who are temporary residents live in Israel, unable to secure full rights because of a 2003 law that prevents those from the occupied territories from obtaining citizenship.

Sawsan Zaher, an attorney with Adalah, a group that advocates for Palestinian citizens of Israel, told VICE News the new law “could lead to forced separation.” A Palestinian temporary resident who posts a call for BDS on his Facebook page, she says, may be denied entry to live with a spouse. Zaher argues that the law is one part of an Israeli legal apparatus that discriminates against Palestinian citizens in all areas of life, from housing to family to political advocacy.

“This law should not be seen separately. It should be seen in the wider picture, as part of shrinking the space for whoever opposes the occupation and discrimination,” said Zaher. “It’s about trying to silence any type of opposition against the occupation.”