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New anti-boycott law to ban foreign BDS supporters from entering Israel

A new Israeli law would ban BDS activists from entering Israel and ‘regions under its control.’

Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

Activists hold a banner reading "Boycott Israel" during a protest in solidarity with Palestine near the Israeli embassy in Oslo, Norway, October 17, 2015. The protest was part of a global wave of demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Activists hold a banner reading “Boycott Israel” during a protest in solidarity with Palestine near the Israeli embassy in Oslo, Norway, October 17, 2015. The protest was part of a global wave of demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Earlier this week, while most international coverage was focused on the escalating violence in the region, Israeli lawmakers were addressing another threat — as they see it — to Israeli security: nonviolent grassroots activism. A new law proposed by MK Yinon Magal of right-wing Jewish Home party would ban entry to foreigners who promote the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights.

“Anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel is engaging in terrorism and must not be allowed to travel the country freely,” said Magal according to Haaretz. The same report notes that the bill has the support of the governing coalition as well as 25 other MKs from various parties.

It is striking that at a time when Israelis fear stabbing or shooting attacks that Israeli lawmakers would describe a nonviolent tactic with such terminology. But after a weekend that BDS organizers claim saw 70 protests in 20 countries under the theme #SolidarityWaveBDS, documents accompanying Magal’s bill warn that “calls for boycotting Israel have intensified. It seems that this is a new front of war against Israel.”

The measure defines “boycott” by the wording of previous anti-BDS legislation as any “deliberate avoidance of economic, social or academic ties or ties to a person or other body just because of his connection to the State of Israel, its institutions or regions under its control, in order to harm it economically, social or academically.”

The phrase “regions under its control” makes clear that the bill would equally target those who only boycott Israeli settlements as well as those who advocate for a blanket boycott of all Israeli institutions.

It is worth noting that while many international activists target only West Bank settlements out of a desire to affirm Israel’s right to exist, the language of the bill implicitly affirms the notion advanced by advocates of full BDS — that the State of Israel is inextricably enmeshed in the occupation and settlement enterprise.

“BDS is a nonviolent tactic, and like any tactic, should be used in the way in which it works most effectively,” says Israeli activist Sahar Vardi. With much of the international community still not completely aware of the way the entire Israeli economy crosses the Green Line, says Vardi, it can be “more effective to focus campaigns on companies directly involved in the settlement or military systems.”

“But it is still important to understand how that economy of occupation works,” adds Vardi. “Every single bank in Israel is funding settlement construction, meaning that every single shekel in the Israeli economy is directly or indirectly invested in growing the Israeli occupation. That is why the boycott movement has identified Israel as a target, and not only economic operations specifically invested in the occupied territories.”

Construction cranes  expand the Israeli settlement of Gilo, East Jerusalem, March 10, 2012. All Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Construction cranes expand the Israeli settlement of Gilo, East Jerusalem, March 10, 2012. All Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Magal’s bill must still obtain parliamentary approval before it becomes law. As with previous attempts to outlaw BDS in Israel, it will be interesting to see whether the version that finally passes is significantly altered or watered down. While the initial bill of 2011′s so-called “Boycott Law” proposed stiffer penalties, the final version only allowed those who consider themselves victims of boycott to sue those who promoting BDS. Even so, that law was met with broad international criticism as an affront to freedom of expression.

“Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished,” said a New York Times editorial. “We are also opposed to boycotts of Israel, but agree this is a fundamental issue of free speech.”

Israel’s High Court of Justice upheld that legislation last April with a ruling in which Justice Hanan Meltzer described BDS as “political terrorism.”

Regardless of the final version of this new law targeting foreigners, it will likely have at least some of the intended chilling effect on activists attempting to visit the region. But such activists have become accustomed to enduring long waits, searches and interrogations upon entering or exiting the areas under Israeli control. Some have already received 10-year entry bans solely because of nonviolent political activity.

Whether this new law significantly raises the stakes for such activists remains to be seen, since being denied entry has been a risk they have long faced on a routine basis. While some will continue to take precautions such as turning off their social media accounts or otherwise attempting to hide their activism on public profiles prior to entry or exit, for most in the movement, that toothpaste is well out of the tube and all over the internet for all to see.

So while this new law may have limited practical effect, the broader issue is what such legislation says about the standard of democracy and free speech in the State of Israel. Like the separation barrier, in the end it may amount to little more than “security theater” — providing the impression that the state is doing something while those committed to the gaining entry will only intensify their efforts in the face of greater opposition.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      The Israelis seem to call “terrorism” anything directed against their settlement project no matter how clearly non-violent. This is a matter of striking narcissistic entitlement (see Natasha Roth’s article on this subject, in the context of a soldier trying with considerable brutality to arrest a child and Israelis’ complaints that the poor soldier was “beaten” by the child’s family while doing this)–for the Israelis engage in daily violence against a subject population, on a routine basis. As Michael Omer-Mann said two days ago, “Firstly, when people talk about addressing the violence at times like these they are generally referring only to Palestinian violence directed at Israelis, not the structural violence of Israel’s occupation and the deadly physical violence it visits on Palestinians. Getting back to “normal” is the goal of Israel and Israel alone.” And while it is strategic to design boycotts to cater to the world’s ignorance of the involvement of the entire economy in the occupation, we can’t ignore the fact that most Israelis insist, whenever boycott of settlement products is proposed, that “Hebron is Tel Aviv, Ariel is Tel Aviv, we are all Israelis.” Fine, have it your way, Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    2. SkyHawk

      The anti-boycott law is most non-violent

      The anti-boycott law is the purest form of free speech

      Free speech for all.

      Yea…….!

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The law by itself is not violent. The state-perpetrated actions that the law enables (search, seizure, arrest, incarceration) are violent. In a well-functioning democracy the state rightly has a monopoly on violence. To direct the state’s violence, however, against political speech is plainly a denial of free speech. This is elementary. By your absurd logic, the Supreme Court of the United States would be constrained by the First Amendment to the Constitution from ever striking down as unconstitutional any law whatsoever.

        Reply to Comment
        • SkyHawk

          “The law by itself is not violent”.

          That’s a good one. THANKS!

          “The state-perpetrated actions that the law enables (search, seizure, arrest, incarceration) are violent. To direct the state’s violence, however, against political speech is plainly a denial of free speech. This is elementary.”

          No, Ben, you are very confused. Free speech is not unlimited. There are limitations to free speech. What the law says is not free speech is in therefore not free speech. The law specifies the limitations to free speech. AND, the Law has a monopoly of violence and can use violence against non-law abiding individuals to ensure compliance with the law. “That is elementary” and obviously you do not have the intellectual maturity to grasp that “elementary fact”.

          Boom!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Not an intelligible reply. Please check for basic English grammar, sentence organization, and linearity of thought, and resubmit. Thanks.

            Reply to Comment
          • SkyHawk

            Ben is rattled, confused and as a result blurting out his usual gibberish – yet again.

            Poor Ben!

            Reply to Comment
    3. Wally's World

      So boycott is ‘terrorism’? The last time I experienced dissonance this grating, Avigdor Lieberman was insisting that Palestine was engaging in ‘diplomatic terror’, for pursuing application of the rule of law through the UN and ICC.

      And now, if I boycott Israel, I won’t be allowed to visit Israel and spend money there?! Perhaps someone should explain to Israel’s darling MK’s what a boycott entails.

      Next thing I know, Netanyahu will claim I am responsible for the Holocaust!

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “And now, if I boycott Israel, I won’t be allowed to visit Israel and spend money there?!”

        Oh what a shame. We will miss ya though……….. NOT!!!!!

        Reply to Comment
    4. allan w massey

      I have never and will never buy anything made or grown in Israel for what is Israel is doing to the poor United States of America milking it like a cow and stealing arab land the war in the middle east is the doing of Israel and you want me to buy their products,HELL NO NEVER

      Reply to Comment
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