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Knesset passes 'BDS ban' preventing foreign boycott supporters from entering Israel

March 7, 2017 7:00 P.M. (Updated: March 8, 2017 11:55 A.M.)
(AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed an amendment into law on Monday evening forbidding entry into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to foreigners calling for a boycott of Israel, Israeli media reported.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the amendment, which passed its final readings with 46 MKs voting in favor and 28 against, bans entry to any foreign individual 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.”

"In the last few years the calls to boycott Israel have been growing," Ynet quoted the amendment proposal as saying. "It appears that this is a new front in the war against Israel for which the state was so far reluctant to prepare. This amendment aims to prevent people or representatives of companies, associations or organizations who publicly call to boycott Israel from actively working within state territories to promote their agenda."

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (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.

BDS has gained momentum over the years, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The ban applies to foreigners who call for a boycott of Israeli institutions as well as of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

While the Israeli Ministry of Interior would be able to make exceptions in specific cases, the law was approved without including an exception for Palestinians with temporary residency in Israel, as had been requested by the Ministry of Justice.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem criticized the new legislation on Tuesday during a press conference attended by Ma’an.

“We think border control shouldn’t be used as thought control,” B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad said, adding that while the law was “not such a novelty” due to Israel’s pre-existing crackdown on foreign BDS activists, it nonetheless sent "a strong message.”

El-Ad also noted that “Israel controls not only who enters Israel, but also who enters Palestine,” hence affecting pro-Palestinian activists’ access to the occupied territory.

Israeli NGO Peace Now also denounced the amendment, calling it “neither Jewish nor democratic” in a statement on Monday.

“The law will ban Jews as well as others supporting two states by boycotting settlement products from entering Israel, and clearly violate freedom of expression. Through this law, the Bennetyahu government will not prevent boycott but rather, deteriorate Israel's international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation," the organization said, referring to far-right Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Legal NGOs Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that the Israeli government was "not entitled to act like a commissar standing at the gate and deciding...which viewpoints are entitled to be heard.”

Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg, meanwhile, was quoted by Ynet as saying that the legislation served “as political censorship and is designed to silence dissent.”

“Not even a hundred laws like this will reduce the criticism against Israeli occupation and settlements and calls to ban products from the settlements, but will have the opposite effect by proving that Israel does actually silence opposition," the Meretz party lawmaker added.

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.

The introduction of the bill to the Knesset in November came after months of Israeli efforts to crack down on the BDS movement and advocates of human rights for Palestinians -- exemplified most recently by Israel’s denial of a work permit for the Israel and Palestine director of international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier this year.

Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan announced in August that they were forming a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

In January 2016, 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 cofounder Omar Barghouti, a permanent resident in Israel, as Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, stated at the time that the decision reflected “the lengths [Israel] will go to in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality."
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