On Monday, Israeli lawmakers passed legislation to ban foreigners who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering Israel.
The bill states that the travel ban will apply to any person “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” The legislation extends to the boycott of settlements in the West Bank, which are viewed as illegal under international law. The bill was brought forward by the pro-settlement, Jewish Home Party.
The travel ban follows Israel’s denial of a visa to Omar Shakir, the American Human Rights Watch Director for Israel and Palestine. Israel claims the NGO is being denied entry because of an anti-Israel bias and spread of “Palestinian propaganda.” Human Rights Watch researches and reports extensively on human rights abuses in 90 countries, including those throughout the Middle East. Israeli officials have stated they were not targeting Shakir and the ban will apply to all Human Rights Watch employees. The Israeli Embassy in Washington agreed to issue Shakir a 10-day tourist visa. However, he was, again, turned away last week. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry escorted Shakir through the Ben-Gurion airport in order to ensure his entry. Hours after Shakir’s arrival, Israel’s travel ban against BDS supports went into effect, thereby blocking future entry.
Israel’s treatment of Shakir and Human Rights Watch raises questions about whether organizations, such as Amnesty International will be allowed to report freely within Israel. As a result of the anti-BDS travel ban, it is not yet clear what organizations or foreign politicians will be turned away. Critics are concerned about what the barring of pro-Palestinian activists and prominent human rights organizations will mean for the ability to advocate for Palestinian rights. The United Nations recently warned Israel about its suppression and arbitrary detention of Palestinian activists.
Tamara Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party spoke out against the bill, arguing that it is “[a] law that is against freedom of expression, that constitutes political censorship and is meant to silence people.” In a statement to Haaretz, she argued that it worked against its own purposes. She was quoted saying, “It’s ostensibly against the boycotters of Israel but it doesn’t make a distinction between Israel and the settlements and it thus serves the BDS movement.”
Israel’s ban on BDS supporters was passed the same day as Donald Trump’s executive order, which bans citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The revised travel ban is set to last 90 days, with the exception of refugees who will be barred for 120 days, unless they are religious minorities in their country of origin.