Will Israel Bar Entry of Foreign BDS Activists?

By Miriam Elman 

(Re-published from Legal Insurrection | Feb. 1, 2017) On Monday Jan. 30, Israel’s parliament (the Knesset) was set to pass into law a bill that bars BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) advocates from the country.

“Opponents are right that if the new law is executed poorly, it could defeat its purpose by increasing support for BDS.”

The bill would extend the ban to those who back the anti-Israel BDS movement as well as those who support the boycott of settlement goods in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank.

The bill has been in the works for over a year, passing its first Knesset reading back in November. Two weeks ago, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee reportedly approved the final wording of the bill, sending it to the plenary for its second and third/final reading. That was supposed to happen on Monday evening (Israel time), when the bill was anticipated to garner a sufficient number of votes in favor to pass. On Monday afternoon (EST) I learned from several colleagues that the vote was postponed. They tell me that there’s no indication when the bill will be back on the Knesset agenda.

The delay is a shame. That’s because this is a bill that needs to become law—the sooner the better.

Below I summarize it, discuss the criticisms that have been raised, and highlight the type of virulently anti-Israel “tourist activism” that’s likely to be impacted if the bill becomes law (and the kind that won’t).

Not surprisingly, the anti-boycott bill has generated “outrage and dismay” from left-of-center legislators and NGOs in both Israel and the U.S. As I suggest below though, most of the criticisms are overblown. The law would be an important corrective to an absurd situation that’s developed in Israel where foreign activists routinely take advantage of the country’s democracy in order to work against it. Still, opponents are right that if the new law is executed poorly, it could defeat its purpose by increasing support for BDS.

Also included below is a short statement exclusive for Legal Insurrection from Lahav Harkov, the Knesset reporter for The Jerusalem Post.

Israel’s Latest Anti-Boycott Bill

The proposed legislation, which has been advanced by both right-wing and centrist Israeli lawmakers, seeks to prevent foreign nationals who have publicly called for a boycott of the Jewish state, or who work on behalf of a pro-BDS organization, from entering Israel.

Jonathan Lis reports for Haaretz.com:

The Knesset is likely to give final approval Monday evening to a bill that would forbid granting entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlementsHowever, the interior minister would be able to make exceptions to this rule if he deems it warranted in a particular case.”

The language of the bill rests on a legal definition of anti-Israel boycotts from a 2011 law, which allows citizens to bring civil suits against Israeli persons and organizations that call for the boycott of Israel and settlements.

So a key aspect of the bill is that it extends to cover settlement-boycott supporters who would also be barred from entering the country under the law (the ban wouldn’t apply to foreign nationals who already have residency permits).

The bill has been in the works for some months, gaining traction following the formation of a joint taskforce this past August. Convened by Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri, the taskforce was mandated to work on ways to prevent entry and to deport BDS activists who are illegally exploiting their tourist visas by engaging in political activities.

Note that representatives of international organizations are able to apply for humanitarian aid visas in order to work in the West Bank legally. But the terms of these visas prohibit recipients from engaging in political or legal activities. So the taskforce was asked to consider how Israel could rectify the situation in which BDS activists are routinely receiving 3-month tourist visas in lieu of the specific humanitarian aid visas, and are thus operating in the country illegally. The bill is a result of the taskforce’s effort.

It was approved for a first reading in the Knesset back in November, with 42 lawmakers in favor, 18 opposed and 7 abstentions. The bill had been on last week’s plenary agenda for a final reading and vote, but was postponed at that time too …

To read the whole post, click here.