BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government announced on Sunday that it was launching a task force to identify and deport members from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, marking the latest attack on left-wing and pro-Palestinian activism by Israel.
In a statement released by Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri, Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan decided on Sunday during a meeting to form a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
"We must not allow BDS activists to enter the state of Israel. This is a necessary step, given the malicious intentions of these activists to delegitimize and spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region," Erdan was quoted as saying in the statement, adding that the boycott movement against Israel “must have a price.”
“Fighting against Israeli boycott starts by fighting those who undermine the State of Israel,” Deri said. “We have a responsibility to do everything possible to crush any boycott and to state clearly that we will not allow the State of Israel to be harmed. Forming the task force is an important step in that direction."
Without citing any names, the statement estimated that “hundreds” of pro-Palestinian activists and dozens of organizations were currently in Israel “to gather information and use it to boycott Israel, and harm its citizens,” and that the task force would also try to prevent the entrance of activists in the future.
The statement also alleged that BDS activists traveled to the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to “incite” Palestinians.
It remained unclear on Sunday evening whether the task force would only focus on foreign activists, or whether its activities would also extend to tracking and monitoring Palestinian and Israeli advocates of BDS.
Sunday’s announcement was only the latest step taken by the Israeli government to target pro-Palestinian activism.
The BDS movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.
The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has gained momentum over the past year, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In late July, the Black Lives Matter movement
-- which denounces police violence against African-Americans in the United States -- came out in support of BDS, stating that it was committed to "global struggle, solidarity, and support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement to fight for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinian people and to end international support of the occupation."
The Israeli government has grown increasingly concerned about the growth of the BDS movement, as the movement’s support base has expanded to include companies, universities and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.
In January, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat BDS
, and dedicated 100 million shekels ($26 million) of the government’s 2016 budget to the issue.
In May, Israel issued a travel ban on BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti
, a permanent resident in Israel, with Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, stating at the time that the decision reflected “the lengths [Israel] will go in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality."
More recently, Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial NGO “transparency bill” into law
on July 12, compelling organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than half came from public foreign entities -- a law which human rights groups and opposition Knesset members condemned for seeking to “silence criticism” of Israel and delegitimize left-wing groups.
Opposition leader in the Knesset Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Camp party then slammed the law for “symbolizing the budding fascism that is rising and flourishing in Israeli society” and making a “mockery” of the “right to organize, which is a sacred founding principle of a democratic society.”