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Israel denies entry to four American civil rights leaders

The delegation is in Israel and the West Bank to learn about the human rights situation on the ground. Three of the four deported already received their visas, but were taken back in.  

An El Al plane is seen through a barbed wire fence at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

An El Al plane is seen through a barbed wire fence at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Four members of an American human rights delegation to Israel and the West Bank, were detained at Ben Gurion Airport, denied entry, and deported by Israeli authorities on Sunday. The rest of the delegation was allowed through.

Two of the four deported are Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of CCR’s board and Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Columbia University. The two others who were deported did not want to be named or interviewed. Franke was accused of being affiliated with the BDS movement; Warren appears to have been deported simply by association.

The “Justice Delegation” of 19 prominent civil rights and social justice leaders from the U.S., most of whom have not been to the region before, include Howard University Law Professor Justin Hanford, who heads the Thurgood Marshall Center for Civil Rights, and Women’s March co-chair Tammika Mallory. The trip was organized by CCR with the stated goal to “witness the human rights situation in Israel and Palestine, including the history of systematic displacement and institutional racism, as well as the work of human rights defenders there.”

A source within the delegation says none of them is on any designated Israeli blacklist related to BDS activism and that the purpose of the tour has nothing to do with BDS. There are two Jewish members of the delegation — one of whom was deported.

Katherine Franke and Vince Warren take a selfie at Ben-Gurion Airport before being deported. Courtesy: Franke

Katherine Franke and Vince Warren take a selfie at Ben-Gurion Airport before being deported, April 29, 2018. (Courtesy: Franke)

Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) spokesperson Sabine Haddad told +972 only three were deported while the fourth volunteered to leave. Haddad says one person was barred entry for “BDS activism, as per the recommendation of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, and the other two — for lying about the reason for their trip.” The deportation order issued to Franke specifies the reason for deportation as “prevention of illegal immigration consideration.”

According to Franke and Warren, the notion that someone left voluntarily is categorically false. All four were informed they were being deported. Warren, however, did not actually receive a physical deportation order, which could explain why Haddad claims one person left of their own volition.

According to Warren and Franke, who spoke by phone on Wednesday, they had already gone through passport control, had their visas in hand, and were waiting in the baggage claim area for the rest of the delegation, when an immigration official approached them and demanded they return to passport control for questioning.

When I asked Haddad why three people who had already received visas and were at the baggage claim were taken back in for questioning, she said they were legally defined as “refused entry.” “As long as they are still within the boundaries of the closed terminal, they have not entered Israel,” she said. Haddad insinuated that getting a visa issued at passport control does not constitute entry into Israel, but stepping outside the terminal does. I am not aware of other cases in which people who were already issued a visa had then been detained and deported.

Franke was interrogated for an hour, during which immigration officials asked her if she is a BDS leader, to which she answered no.  The official then accused her of coming to “promote BDS in Palestine,” to which she said no, pointing out that there is no need to visit Palestine in order to promote BDS. He also accused her of working for Jewish Voice for Peace — an organization that openly promotes BDS and is on Israel’s blacklist — but she said no.  While Franke did serve on JVP’s academic advisory council and is a signatory of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, she is employed by Columbia University.

The order Katherine Franke received at Ben Gurion airport, denying her entry into Israel.

The order Katherine Franke received at Ben Gurion airport, denying her entry into Israel.

Franke said at one point the interrogation became aggressive, and the official started yelling at her, accusing her of lying about the purpose of her trip. He then proceeded to show her what he claimed was proof of her ties to BDS: He showed her that her name appears on the websites of what she is fairly certain were Canary Mission and AMCHA — both ultra-right American watchdog groups that publish names and information of individuals deemed “anti-Israel,” with the explicit goal of damaging their reputations and careers. They have no legal or security credentials or official ties to the Israeli government (as far as I know). They often accuse people of being anti-Israel or antisemites because of their opposition to Israeli policies and support for Palestinian rights, among them the right to boycott.

“The government is essentially outsourcing their security to rightwing trolling websites,” Franke said.

According to Franke, the immigration official then took her visa, crumpled it on the floor, and said she would be banned for life. They took her photo and scanned her index fingers. Upon receiving the deportation order, she was told she was banned from Israel for five years, although this is not specified in the order.

Warren says he was informed he would be deported before even being interrogated. “It was impossible to leave voluntarily. There was no consent. We were all informed we were being deported,” Warren says. After being told he was being deported, he was then asked the purpose of the trip. He was not asked about whether he is a BDS activist. He does not know whether he has been banned.

None of the activists who are currently traveling wanted to speak on the record, fearing mistreatment upon departing through Ben-Gurion Airport.

The “Justice Delegation” group is meeting with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, among them, B’Tselem, Adalah, Al Haq, Addameer, Breaking the Silence, The Israeli Public Committee Against Torture,  and Yesh Din.  They have already visited Umm al Hiran, Hebron, Jerusalem, and will also visit south Tel Aviv to learn about groups working with African asylum seekers. Gaza is not on the itinerary.

Police arrest an Israeli activist participating in the 'Welcome to Palestine' fly-in protest on April 15, 2012 at the Ben Gurion Air Port near Tel Aviv, Israel. The action protested the routine discrimination against travelers attempting to visit the occupied Palestinian territories, which are only accessible through Israeli-controlled airports and border crossings. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police arrest an Israeli activist participating in the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ fly-in protest on April 15, 2012 at the Ben Gurion Air Port near Tel Aviv, Israel. The action protested the routine discrimination against travelers attempting to visit the occupied Palestinian territories, which are only accessible through Israeli-controlled airports and border crossings. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This, of course, is not the first time people wishing to enter Israel have been barred entry, and Israeli officials have the discretion to refuse entry to whoever they want.

In March 2017, Israel’s Knesset passed a law that bars issuing temporary visas or residency to any non-Israeli citizen who has publicly called for or pledged to participate in a boycott of Israel. Then in January of this year, Israel published a blacklist of 20 organizations whose members would be susceptible to being barred entry for their support for BDS.

Last November, Raed Jarrar, Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for the human rights organization Amnesty International U.S.A., (not on that list) was barred entry to Israel because of an Amnesty campaign calling on governments to ban settlement products.

And last July, five members of an interfaith delegation to Israel — including Jewish Voice for Peace deputy director, Rabbi Alissa Wise, were prevented from boarding their flights from the U.S. to Israel because if their BDS advocacy.

While I cannot report or confirm the same about the two unnamed deportees, it is clear that when it comes to Warren and Franke — the reason for their deportation was their politics, their vocal opposition to Israeli policies, and their desire to witness and document the reality on the ground.  It has nothing to do with what they said was the purpose of their trip, and has nothing to do with BDS. It is about their work in the U.S. on behalf of Palestinian rights and their opinions.

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    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      I thank our government for protecting us from foreign agitators.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      This is good news. The BDS fascists are not wanted here. Let them go back to their hovels.

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        Israel, ever faster and deeper into the abyss of fascism. The world is watching in disgust!!

        Jan 19, 2018 – Haaretz
        Opinion: “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism” by Zeev Sternhell.

        “I frequently ask myself how a historian in 50 or 100 years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established in the War of Independence, on the ruins of European Jewry and at the cost of the blood of combatants some of whom were Holocaust survivors, had devolved into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians or Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity?”

        Opinion: “Gaza Border Killings Expose Israel’s True Mentality
        “And Bezalel Smotrich, like the cynical face of Avigdor Lieberman, reflects our own face, the face of Netanyahu’s advance guard for the West.” Zeev Sternhell April 27, 2018 – Haaretz

        ** Zeev Sternhell is a Polish-born Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and writer. He is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and writes for Haaretz newspaper.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      The question you have to ask yourself, of course, is why Israel needs increasingly to resort to the East German Stasi techniques it is practicing and perfecting with great energy and resources. A country that knows it is in the right, legally and morally does not have to do these things.

      Israel has now developed special expertise, become a “world leader” of sorts, in three things: control of unwanted, uncooperative, captive populations; control of information and propaganda; and selling of illicit arms to similar regimes elsewhere. Because it has to. (That is, the first two things because it has to, the third to help fund the first two. With an absolutely amoral attitude about it. As documented in the pages of +972 Magazine. Such is the expertise Israel can pride itself on.)

      The Soviet East Germans had to do these things because they had no other alternative–people knew they were wrong, they themselves knew they were wrong or that what their country was doing to millions of people was indefensible. The Soviets also similarly preened themselves as somehow in the vanguard of humanity but no one believed it.

      Increasingly, the world does not buy the Israeli propaganda line. And so these Stasi practices will only increase. Of necessity. And people like the creepily named “Public Security Minister” Gilad Erdan, the quintessential eager totalitarian flunky, will come to the fore. What was the metaphor Lewis used? Oh yes, out of their hovels.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mark

      On the whole I tend to support this policy. BDS supporters who want to visit the WB would be well advised to travel via Amman. If they are turned back at the land border they can enjoy a stay in Jordan, and perhaps pop over to Syria to have a look at what’s going on there.

      If they wanted to go to Gaza they would have to go via Cairo anyway.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        “A source within the delegation says none of them is on any designated Israeli blacklist related to BDS activism and that the purpose of the tour has nothing to do with BDS. There are two Jewish members of the delegation — one of whom was deported….Gaza is not on the itinerary.”
        In their eagerness to discredit a political view, israel is turning away jews who refuse to fetishize the government.

        Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Don’t you think John knows that countries have passport control? Nothing about that fact countermands what John is saying. John is talking about the USE passport control is being put to not the banal fact of passport control.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      Roger Cohen of the New York Times just wrote an article about the Franke case –


      Franke told me: “They were not interested in why I was there. They already had a story. I was a leader of Jewish Voice for Peace. I was there to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — all this untrue. It quickly ramped up to where the guy was yelling at me for lying. He Googled my name and came up with right-wing trolling sites like Canary Mission or AMCHA that push out ugly stuff about faculty held to be enemies of Israel.” How is it, Franke asked, that “Israel delegates to right-wing trolls the job of determining who should be admitted to Israel?”

      Reply to Comment
    6. Brian Fink

      The purpose of BDS, in the words of its founder Barghouti, is the elimination of Israel. Try attempting to enter the US stating that you intend to overthrow the government and see how far you get. The activists have a right to oppose Israel’s existence, they do not have a right to do so from inside Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Rafael

      Nope the ones destroying Israel are those that ara against a 2 state solution. The same ones that suport a horrible ocupation. If Israel discard that idea what will become of the Palestinians? will they have the same rights as Israelis do? I dont think so. What is coming is more aprtheid and repression. So tell me Ignoramus who is the real threath to a Democratic Israel?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        End the Apartheid………………………………by repatriating all illegal JORDANIAN squatters from Judea & Samaria. Their relatives in Amman are waiting for them.

        Reply to Comment