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WATCH: Israeli police arrest, rough up Activestills photojournalist

Journalists were standing off to the side of a mass prayer action that devolved into light clashes when police charged at them, singling out Faiz Abu Rmeleh, later beating and harassing him, he says.

By Oren Ziv and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

Israeli police roughed up and detained Activestills photojournalist Faiz Abu Rmeleh Tuesday night while he was covering a mass prayer at the Lions’ Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem. The incident is one of many in recent days in which Israeli, Palestinian and foreign press have accused police of restricting their access and in some cases assaulting them.

Police accused Abu Rmeleh of attacking them and held him until 4 a.m., eventually releasing him with a 15-day restraining order from Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Lions’ Gate, and the Old City of Jerusalem, despite the fact that he lives in the Old City. Multiple witnesses and Abu Rmeleh himself reject the accusation that he acted in any way violently toward officers. He has not been charged.

More than 1,000 worshipers gathered at the Lions’ Gate, one of the entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City, and held prayers there as an act of civil disobedience Tuesday night, as they have every night over the past week or so. At the end of prayers, once the majority of worshipers had dispersed, things deteriorated, with some Palestinian youth throwing stones and police using stun grenades against the members of the crowd that remained.

“It was clear the police were ready for trouble. For about the last five minutes of prayers they had stun grenades already in their hands,” The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Peter Beaumont, told +972 Magazine.

A group of journalists was standing on some steps off to the side of the action when police came at them and began pushing them away, several members of the press recounted.

“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” Abu Rmeleh told +972 Magazine after he was released Wednesday morning. “They jumped on me and said, you’re under arrest. I asked why, and they said for assaulting a police officer.”

“Faiz was photographing,” Beaumont, the Guardian correspondent, recalled. “Several [officers] made a bee line for Faiz and grabbed him. The only reason appeared to be that he continued taking photographs.”

Despite other journalists telling police that Abu Rmeleh is a press photographer, officers took him to two separate police...

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Senior Israeli gov’t minister warns Palestinians of ‘third Nakba’

Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Netanyahu, threatens Palestinians with ethnic cleansing in response to the latest round of violence.

A senior minister in the Israeli government and a close ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu warned the Palestinian people over the weekend of mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing if they don’t put an end to the current round of violence.

“Remember 1948” and “remember 1967,” Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi wrote in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday, responding to the murder of three Israeli civilians inside their home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish the night before. “This is how a ‘Nakba’ begins.”

(Find a full translation of Hangebi’s statement below.)

“Nakba” is the Palestinian name for the events surrounding 1948, when some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Israeli forces as part of the war that led to the establishment of Israel. Israel allowed neither those whom it expelled nor those who fled during the fighting to return once the war was over, leading to a massive refugee crisis that continues to this day. Another 300,000 or so Palestinians were forced to flee during the 1967 Six-Day War, roughly half of whom were refugees from 1948.

“When you want to stop it all it will already be gone,” Hanegbi wrote, suggesting that the current cycle of violence will lead Israel to carry out another mass expulsion or to the displacement of Palestinians. “It will already be after the third Nakba.”

“You’ve already paid that crazy price twice for your leaders,” he continued, urging the Palestinian public to break from their leaders, whom he described as reckless, religious zealots. “Don’t try us again because the result won’t be any different.”

Israel regularly accuses the Palestinians of incitement to violence against Jews and Israelis, yet nobody in the Israeli government has condemned Hanegbi’s warning of ethnic cleansing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not fired him, demanded he retract the threat to carry out a war crime, nor has any Israeli official made public any indication that such statements are unacceptable.

The Netanyahu government has portrayed Palestinian incitement as one of the major hurdles to peace in the most recent American attempts to re-start a peace process.

Violence broke out in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent days as Palestinians protested new Israeli security measures outside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,

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America's BDS law is an attack on far more than free speech

The world long ago made clear to the Palestinians that violence is not a legitimate path for seeking independence. Now Congress is trying to criminalize one of the few nonviolent tools left.

A pair of laws currently making their way through the United States Congress would impose criminal sanctions on Americans who support an economic boycott of Israel or its illegal West Bank settlements. The bill follows in the footsteps of, and in some was surpasses the dozens of American states that have passed their own anti-boycott laws in recent years.

The Senate bill, S. 720, known as the “Anti-Israel Boycott Act,” also goes far beyond what even the Israeli government is willing to do to counter the grassroots movement to end the occupation and achieve certain basic rights for Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has its own anti-boycott law on the books but it not criminal, and it does not directly limit the right to call for such boycotts. Even in Israel calling to boycott the country, its institutions, its citizens, and its settlements are still considered protected speech. The punishment for violating the proposed American law, on the other hand, would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and/or up to a year in prison.

“This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to U.S. Senators this week, adding that such punishments would be “a direct violation of the first amendment.” Even requesting information about companies that are boycotts would become illegal, the ACLU noted.

But the efforts to stymie boycott efforts in the United States and elsewhere — similar legislation has popped up in Europe — are far more sinister than just restricting the free speech and political expression of American and other supporters of Palestinians. Its true purpose is to block one of the few remaining legitimate, nonviolent tactics Palestinians have for achieving national self-determination and individual rights.

When the Israeli government and its supporters (the Senate bill is being promoted by AIPAC) attempt to delegitimize the Palestinian-led boycott — a political and economic pressure tactic well within the normative democratic toolbox — they are actually saying that Palestinians do not have the same political rights as others with regards to individual political expression, but more importantly, the right to national self-determination.


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Rattling the Gilded Cage: An Interview with Larry Derfner

“No Country for Jewish Liberals,” by Larry Derfner, Just World Books, 260 pp., $26.95

Moving to Israel was an experiment of sorts for Larry Derfner. As a journalist, it was an attempt to advance his career. More significantly, at least with the benefit of hindsight, it was an attempt to reconcile the intoxicating appeal of muscular nationalism with the liberal values he absorbed in his Los Angeles home and by coming of age in the Vietnam-era anti-war movement.

It was easier to be liberal in the United States because the real-world consequences of dovish policies rarely put you at personal risk, Derfner tells me in a broad-ranging conversation about his recent book, No Country for Jewish Liberals. “You want to be a liberal here? You better get a better idea of what’s at stake. I wanted to test my ideals against reality. That’s what I thought Israel was.”

Derfner is best known as a columnist and opinion writer, for The Jerusalem Post, for several years at +972 Magazine, and currently with Haaretz. The book itself also feels like a journalistic experiment at times: a director’s cut of his decades-long body of work. But mostly, it is an accounting of his personal political transformation, and through it, the story of Israel over the past three decades and the many deep-seated contradictions it comprises.

When Larry Derfner first started writing for +972 Magazine, one of the first major public discussions in which he took part centered on the question of whether Liberal Zionism poses an inherent contradiction. Looking back on that debate today, it is clear that Larry has always been uncompromising in his assessment of the world but is also willing to accept certain contradictions — and even some injustices — as unmovable foundations of reality. That often leaves him uncomfortably wedged between the uncompromising nature of the radical left and the mainstream’s unwillingness to look reality in the eyes.

Nevertheless, many of his views have continued to progress over the years.

In that +972 Magazine debate back in 2011, Derfner had already come to acknowledge that, “Zionism privileges the Jews over Arabs and other gentiles, and that’s at odds with liberal values.” However, he continued, “if Israel stops being a Jewish state it will become a Palestinian state, and on the way to that it will be a state at civil war that will bring on the exodus...

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Hundreds march against occupation on major West Bank highway

Palestinian and Israeli anti-occupation and pro-peace groups march along main settler highway. MK Ayman Odeh calls for Palestinian statehood while putting an end to ‘the racist discourse of separation.’

Hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis marched along a major highway used by settlers in the West Bank on Friday demanding an end to the occupation and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

For two years now, Combatants for Peace and other organizations have held the near-monthly marches on Route 60, the southern West Bank’s main north-south artery that connects Jerusalem, Beit Jala, the Gush Etzion settlements, and Hebron.

Participants marched along the side of the highway, chanting against the occupation and violence and playing drums. At the end of the march, several speakers addressed the crowd.

“We stand here together, Israelis and Palestinians, who want to build peace together, standing together against the occupation, and opposing the racist discourse of separation,” Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh, head of the Knesset’s third-largest party, said in a speech at the march. “The idea of seeking a Jewish majority is racist and harms our joint struggle. We support the establishment of a Palestinian state for the benefit of the Palestinian people and their right to live with independence and dignity, and because it will be good for both peoples.”

“It was really moving to see hundreds of people marching here today — Jews and Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories — chanting in two languages but with one message: Israeli-Palestinian peace is for the good of both peoples,” said Suf Patishi, one of the organizers of the event from Standing Together. “We will continue to march, and we will continue to speak that message.”

“We came together because we believe that with nonviolent, joint direct action against the occupation we can change the reality here,” said Karen Isaacs, an organizer with anti-occupation collective All That’s Left. “So I say, occupation is not my Judaism. Through nonviolent direct action, a world of kindness will be built here.”

[Video by A. Daniel Roth:]

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10 must-read articles for World Refugee Day

A selection of articles and stories about asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on the occasion of World Refugee Day. (Full disclosure, I couldn’t include just 10)

It has been more than a decade since refugees from Darfur first began making the dangerous journey across the Sinai desert in order to seek asylum in Israel. Since those early years, Israeli society and successive Israeli governments have become increasingly hostile toward the asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere who sought safety and dignity in the country.

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, here is a selection of articles about African refugees in Israel over the years. Since +972 Magazine was founded, we have always put special emphasis on telling refugees’ stories, letting refugees tell their own stories, and documenting their struggles in Israel.

The following list is organized semi-chronologically, with the most recent issues and coverage presented first. Also, check out our full collection of articles on refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.


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Extremist rabbi indicted for incitement against Palestinians

The indictment, which was approved by Israel’s attorney general, was the result of a years-long petition demanding the state take action. Israel’s quasi-constitution has no explicit protection of free speech.

A extremist Israeli settler rabbi who has published articles and books on the permissibility of killing non-Jews was indicted for incitement to violence on Tuesday, years after penning his most notorious work, “Torat Halmelech.”

The indictment of Rabbi Yosef Elitzur was the result of a petition filed two years ago by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and Tag Meir, demanding that the state take criminal action against him.

“It is high time Israel cease to tolerate the intolerable,” Anat Hoffman, executive director of IRAC, said of the indictment. “A rabbi like him contaminates our Jewish tradition and pollutes our democracy. Freedom of speech ends when hate and violence are preached and practiced.”

Incitement charges are most common against Palestinians in Israel, with authorities rarely holding Jewish citizens to the same standards of criminal liability. Freedom of speech is not explicitly guaranteed under Israeli law, and authorities and legislators place many limits on protected speech in the country.

Read +972’s Special Coverage: Censorship and Freedom of Information

In recent years, hundreds of Palestinians have been put on trial in civilian and military courts for statuses posted on Facebook that Israeli authorities deem inciting.

One of the most famous cases was the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was charged criminally for a poem she wrote and posted online. Earlier this week, a Jewish Israeli activist lawyer was criminally convicted for a song he wrote about a police officer.

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Netanyahu vows to occupy the West Bank forever

If Israel is not willing to relinquish military control over the West Bank, then it is saying that there can be no two-state solution.

Benjamin Netanyahu last week promised that Israel will never relinquish security control over the West Bank, even as part of a two-state peace deal, which is to say that the Israeli army will occupy the Palestinian territory forever.

“[I]n any agreement, and even without an agreement, we will maintain security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” the prime minister said at an event marking 50 years since Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip, putting them under military rule, otherwise known as the occupation.

Let’s break that down: the Israeli prime minister, who regularly blames the Palestinians for the lack of progress toward peace, has openly admitted — again — that he is unwilling to end the occupation. Without ending the occupation there can be no Palestinian sovereignty. Without Palestinian sovereignty there can be no Palestinian state, and no national self-determination.

Without Palestinian national self-determination and statehood, the Palestinian people are left living as subjects under a military regime with no civil rights, no suffrage.

But have no illusions, this is far from the first time that Netanyahu made clear that he has no intention of ever ending the occupation. The world has heard him say it time and again, year after year.

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Yet time and again, the world pretends like the Israeli prime minister is a partner for peace, that if only the Palestinians could be convinced to make one more concession, peace would be within reach.

The truth is that Netanyahu’s grasp on power is predicated on his record of stability, which means maintaining the status quo — occupation and all. For the most part, Israelis are in one of most comfortable positions they’ve ever been in vis-à-vis the Palestinians. There is no urgency to end the occupation. The perceived risk in relinquishing territory and “security control” to the Palestinians far outweighs any perceived benefit.

What Netanyahu said this week, however, is not only that he doesn’t think it wise to take those risks in the foreseeable future. He...

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In Israel's official portrait, only Jewish lives matter

A new government report published on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day only concerns itself with infant mortality statistics and life expectancy of Jewish citizens. What does that say about Israel’s attitude towards non-Jews?

It is not all that uncommon for nationalist Israelis to accuse anybody politically to the left of them of supporting, or attempting to transform Israeli into “a state of all its citizens.” The idea being that a state which sees, counts, serves, and protects all of its citizens equally, irrespective of ethnicity or creed, would destroy Israel as we know it — Israel the Jewish state, which belongs only to its Jewish citizens.

It should be no surprise then that a state which values its Jewish citizens over anyone else would measure its successes using metrics that include only its Jewish population, excluding one in five of its total population.

For instance, an annual official demographic report published on the eve of Independence Day (Hebrew), comparing infant mortality rates in Israel “then and now,” only includes the statistics for the country’s Jewish citizens. The infant mortality rate in Israel is an impressive 2.2 per 1,000 live births, according to the press release published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. But if you read the fine print you learn that number is only for Jews. (See note at the bottom of this article.)

According to the full data found on the CBS’s website, the infant mortality rates for Muslim citizens of Israel is 6.5 per 1,000 live births, nearly three times the rate for Jewish citizens, and 6.2 per 1,000 for all Arab citizens. The national rate, including all Israeli citizens irrespective of race or ethnicity, is 3.1 per 1,000.

Is this an attempt at inflating statistics in order to make the country look good? Is it a more sinister statement that Jewish lives matter more than non-Jewish lives in Israel? Perhaps both? It’s pretty sickening either way.

Several other figures in the CBS document, sent to the press last Thursday, also give data exclusively for Israel’s Jewish population, which comprises 74.7 percent of all Israeli citizens. Many of the other figures for which data pertaining only to the Jewish population was published, like average life expectancy, also hide significant disparities between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations of Israel.

According to the document published last week, life expectancy in Israel is 80.9 for men...

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'Day of Rage' protests across West Bank in support of hunger strikers

Israeli troops suppress the protests with live bullets, rubber-coated munitions, and tear gas, wounding dozens. 1,500 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike to demand improved conditions, an end to administrative detention.

Thousands of Palestinians held protests in at least a dozen locations around the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday as part of a “day of rage” in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, some 1,500 of whom have refused food in Israeli prisons for the past 12 days.

Israeli military forces shot at least seven protesters with live bullets, according to Palestinian news agency Ma’an, and dozens others were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, being struck by projectile tear gas canisters, and tear gas inhalation.

Protests took place in Nabi Saleh, outside the Ofer military prison, in the city of Silwad, in Sinjil, at the Qalandiya checkpoint, in Bethlehem, the Nablus-area town of Beita, al-Naqura, Awarta, al-Arrub, Beit Ummar, at a checkpoint near Qalqilya, Jenin, and in Kafr Qaddum.

The day of rage followed a general strike in solidarity with the prisoners, which shut down commerce in Palestinian cities across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem on Thursday.

Smaller protests have been taking place on both sides of the Green Line for nearly two weeks, outside Israeli prisons and also in town and city centers.

At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners are taking part in the now-12-day hunger strike, demanding improved conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the demands of the prisoners are: an end to administrative detention, more family visits and more phones for contacting family, access to education, and an end to the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners had access to many of the conditions now being demanded, but Israeli authorities revoked some of them as retribution for the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and 2014 deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

Individual hunger strikes have become more common in recent years, primarily undertaken by prisoners being held without charge or trial (in administrative detention), although larger groups of Palestinian prisoners have also launched larger hunger strikes over the years.

Civil rights group Adalah filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) allow the hunger-striking prisoners visits with their lawyers; prison officials have been preventing them from meeting with attorneys as punishment for not eating. Preventing lawyer visits with prisoners as a punitive measure...

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Palestinians hold general strike in support of hunger-striking prisoners

Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have refused food for nearly two weeks to protest prison conditions and practices like administrative detention. A ‘day of rage’ is planned for Friday.

A general strike in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners on took place across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Thursday. Shops in commercial districts shuttered their doors, leaving normally busy streets and markets empty.

“Shops, institutions, banks, and schools all closed in support of the hunger strikers,” Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported. In addition, a “day of rage” was planned for Friday, with protests expected in a number of Palestinian cities.

Smaller protests have been taking place on both sides of the Green Line for nearly two weeks, outside Israeli prisons and also in town and city centers.

At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners are taking part in the now-12-day hunger strike, demanding improved conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the demands of the prisoners are: an end to administrative detention, more family visits and more phones for contacting family, access to education, and an end to the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners had access to many of the conditions now being demanded, but Israeli authorities revoked some of them as retribution for the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit and 2014 deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

Individual hunger strikes have become more common in recent years, primarily undertaken by prisoners being held without charge or trial (in administrative detention), although larger groups of Palestinian prisoners have also launched larger hunger strikes over the years.

Civil rights group Adalah filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that the Israel Prison Service allow the hunger-striking prisoners visits with their lawyers; prison officials have been preventing them from meeting with attorneys as punishment for not eating. Preventing lawyer visits with prisoners as a punitive measure is a direct contradiction of previous Supreme Court rulings, the civil rights group said.

Israeli authorities are also taking other punitive measures against the hunger-striking prisoners, ranging from solitary confinement to transfers between prisons to the confiscation of radios and salt from prisoners’ cells, Haaretz reported on Thursday.

Israel is currently holding some 6,500 Palestinians in its prisons, including over a dozen elected members of the Palestinian parliament, and hundreds of others who are being held in administrative detention. Israel uses administrative detention to imprison Palestinians without having...

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PHOTOS: When you could ride a train from Gaza City to Tel Aviv

The rail line, which is almost unimaginable today considering the blockade and permit regime, ran for just under a year — until the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

It’s been nearly 45 years since you could hop on a train in Gaza City and ride all the way to Tel Aviv, a situation that is almost unimaginable considering the blockade and severe restrictions on movement enforced by Israel today. The rail line, which ran for just under a year, was operated mostly for Palestinian laborers coming to work in the central Israeli city.

The following photos, from the archives of the Israeli Government Press Office, were taken on November 1, 1972, the first morning the train brought Palestinians from Gaza to Tel Aviv.

According to a 2014 article on Hebrew-language news site Mako, the rail service was discontinued just under a year later at the outbreak of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli authorities were considering closing it far earlier, however, due to very few Palestinians using it — starting even on the first day.

In its November 2, 1972 article about the launch of the train a day earlier, the Davar newspaper reported that a mere 25 passengers rode the 1,000-person capacity train that morning — partly, the reporter suggested, because nobody knew about it and also because the station, at Medina Square in Gaza City, was full of Israeli soldiers.

“It turns out that the workers getting onto buses at the Egged station across from the train station didn’t know about the train, and perhaps some of them feared riding the train due to the crowd of soldiers at the station,” Davar reported. “O.C. Central Command Rehavam Ze’evi suggested that army personnel clear out from the station, in order to give it a more civilian appearance.”

(It’s ironic, in the darkest possible way, that Ze’evi was reported encouraging Palestinians to get on a train into Israel. Aside from being assassinated, he is best known for advocating the forced population transfer — read: ethnic cleansing — of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza.)

The train was supposed to run for a few months as a trial, after which its viability and future would be re-evaluated. It didn’t go well.

On February 26, 1973, Davar reported: “The military government in Gaza and North Sinai informed Transportation Minister Shimon Peres that it is ending...

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'There's an opportunity to embed Palestine in the progressive agenda'

A lot of smart people thought Barack Obama would be more sympathetic than his predecessors to the Palestinian cause, hopefully resulting in a more even-handed approach to the conflict. Obama, however, along with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, failed to achieve peace and things on the ground in Israel/Palestine are measurably worse today than they were eight years ago.

The Trump administration, however, has thrown most campaigners on the issue of Israel/Palestine for a loop, and forced many to re-evaluate their priorities. “Even having prepared for the worst since the election, in practice things are still pretty shocking,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, head of Jewish Voice for Peace says.

JVP is the most prominent Jewish organization to have endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a distinction that has driven a wedge between it and more mainstream Jewish groups and institutions — and also contributed to its growth. With 70 chapters across the United States, 12,000 dues-paying members and a quarter of a million online supporters, the group has become a major player in recent years.

The organization’s willingness to ally itself with the Palestinian cause — and Palestinians — has also put it and its members in the crosshairs of a new, no-holds-barred type of pro-Israel group taking root in the United States and elsewhere. Canary Mission, a shadowy website whose sole purpose is to smear pro-Palestine activists with allegations of anti-Semitism and concocted ties to terrorism, has profiles on JVP and Vilkomerson. Almost comically, on the Canary Mission website, JVP is placed directly next to Hamas.

Are such tactics having a silencing effect? Are state-sponsored attacks on pro-Palestinian groups and activists, seen most recently in Israeli-imposed travel restrictions and intelligence gathering against boycott supporters, a sign that the BDS movement is making gains? And what role does a Jewish-American organization have in fighting for Palestinian rights?

What is the future of activism on Israel/Palestine in the Trump era? I sat down with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, to discuss strategies, hopes and fears for the coming four years. The following has been edited for length.

Israel passed a law barring entry to BDS supporters earlier this month. You wrote at the time that you hoped it would hasten the day when anybody can travel freely to Israel. Yet this is only one of many attempts to push back against BDS...

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