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The war on Israeli BDS supporters

Israel’s minister of strategic affairs is gathering intelligence and compiling blacklists on Israeli citizens who support the boycott movement.

By Amnon Portugaly

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Chief of Police Roni Alsheikh attend a ceremony for Israeli police at the Police National College, Bet Shemesh, September 22, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Chief of Police Roni Alsheikh attend a ceremony for Israeli police at the Police National College, Bet Shemesh, September 22, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

These days Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security and strategic affairs, is promoting a new law that would exclude his ministry from governmental oversight. This is a step meant to help fight the BDS movement, while also granting legitimacy to gathering intelligence on Israeli citizens who are involved in the movement to boycott Israel.

In June, Haaretz reported that the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which Erdan heads, would essentially be shielded from certain provisions in the Freedom of Information Law — as decided by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

According to the bill, a decision was made in October 2015 by the Ministerial Committee on National Security, enabled the ministry “to fulfill its functions effectively, it is suggested to exclude from the provisions of the Freedom of Information law the ministry’s activities within the framework of the responsibilities imposed on it by the government to lead the campaign against the phenomenon of de-legitimization and boycotts against Israel.”

But why must the battle against BDS organizations be kept away from the public eye? And what does “fulfilling its functions effectively” mean?

Erdan has already established an office in the Military Intelligence Directorate whose job is to gather intelligence on foreign BDS activists. Now it is becoming clear that Erdan wants to expand the surveillance activities of his ministry to include Israeli citizens. In his view, many Israeli citizens are involved in encouraging boycotts of Israel while collaborating with foreign BDS activists.

Jeff Halper holding a sign supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — but not on the day he was detained by Israeli police. (Courtesy of Jeff Halper)

Israeli activist Jeff Halper holding a sign supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. (Courtesy of Jeff Halper)

In fact, the Israeli government has been doing this for quite a while through shadow organizations such as Im Tirzu, Israel Academia Monitor, and the like. Now Erdan and the government are institutionalizing those organizations’ work. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and his deputy Avi Licht opposed the move, arguing that the Public Security Ministry does not have the legal authority to gather intelligence and manage databases on Israeli citizens.

The work of the new intelligence office in the Military Intelligence Directorate will likely include dozens of people who will gather and sort through information, and enlisting informants who will pass along information on BDS supporters in Israel and across the world. A kind of spy game that includes the methodical surveilling and categorizing of activists. Establishing databases and blacklists, the criteria of which are unknown. These lists will include citizens, organizations, and companies that call to boycott Israel or support the BDS movement, with the goal of preventing them from visiting Israel or to punish them with sanctions.

Intelligence gathering on political activists or dissidents was and continues to be the legacy of regimes such as the one that ruled East Germany. There, the Stasi secret police under Markus Wolf spied on citizens through a wide network of informants and collaborators, gathered intelligence on dissidents, and put together blacklists.

Erdan’s activities befit tyrannical countries such as North Korea and East Germany. His actions are immoral, illegal, and do not conform to the principles of democracy and law.

Amnon Portugaly is a research fellow at the Chazan Center for Social Justice and Democracy at the Van Leer Institute. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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    1. David

      Palestine has known many occupiers over the millennia. The Zionist occupation will prove to be one of the shortest.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        There has never been any State of “Palestine”. Nobody heard about the “Palestinian” People before the 60s. For us Jews, the Judea and the Samaria have been liberated in 67 and we get back home. I am proud of our government and our ministers.

        Reply to Comment
        • David


          The first known written reference to Palestinians as a people (Peleset) was c.1150 BCE at the temple of Medinet Habut. They were among those who fought with Egypt during Ramesses III’s reign.

          The region between the Jordan River and the Med. Sea was referred tobas “Palestine” by the Greek historian Herodotus (“the father of history”) during the 5th century BCE.

          100 years later, in the mid-4th Century BCE, Aristotle referred to Palestine while discussing the Dead Sea in his Meteorology. “Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine….”

          Jewish historian Josephus’s (c.37-100 CE) The Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews contains many references to both “Palestine” and “Palestinians.”

          Contemporaries of Jesus also routinely referred to Palestine as “Palestine.” In the first decade of the 1st Century, the Roman poet Ovid mentioned Palestine in both his famed mythological poem Metamorphoses and his erotic elegy The Art of Love. He also wrote of “the waters of Palestine” in his calendrical poem Fasti. Around the same time, another Latin poet, Tibullus wrote of “the crowded cities of Palestine” in the section “Messalla’s Triumph” in his poem Delia.

          The claim that the Roman emperor Hadrian officially changed the name of the region to “Syria Palaestina” or simply “Palestine,” in 135 CE is contradicted by the fact that by then, the term “Palestine” had already been in use for over 600 years.

          When the Muslim Arabs arrived in Palestine in the 7th century CE (and liberated its Jewish population from Byzantine oppression), they retained the administrative organization of the territory of Palestine as it had been under the Romans and later, the Byzantines. They referred to the territory as “Filastin” (no “P” in Arabic.)

          To quote the opening sentence of the section entitled “Filastin” that appears in the book “Dictionary of the Lands,” written by geographer Yaqut ibn Abdullah al-Hamawi in 1225: “Filastin: It is the last one of the regions of Syria in the direction of Egypt. Its most famous cities are Ashkelon, Ramle, Gaza, Arsuf, Caesaria, Nablus, Jericho, Jaffa and Beit Guvrin.”

          By about 1300 CE there were virtually no Jews in Palestine, which was a recognized geographical concept using coinage with “Filistin” written on them. There were diaries of Palestinian travelers who said they missed “Palestine” and a distinctive Palestinian dialect of Arabic had evolved. From 1300 on, the vast majority of people who lived in Palestine were Christians and Muslims.

          In 1603, Shakespeare wrote in his play Othello: “Emilia: I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.” (Act IV, Scene iii.)

          In 1863, The Religious Tract Society of London published its “Pictorial Journey Through the Holy Land; or Scenes of Palestine.” In this work Beersheba is described as the southern limit of Palestine. Beersheba lies south-east of Gaza on the northern edge of the Negev desert. Palestine is described as “south of Lebanon.”

          European tourist books of the nineteenth century refer to “Palestine,” as did Theodor Herzl in his correspondence and the 1917 Balfour Declaration as well as the 1922 Class A League of Nations British Mandate.

          To quote the Winston Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            “Filastin: It is the last one of the regions of Syria in the direction of Egypt. Its most famous cities are Ashkelon, Ramle, Gaza, Arsuf, Caesaria, Nablus, Jericho, Jaffa and Beit Guvrin.”

            Didn’t Yaqut ibn Abdullah al-Hamawi know about Al-Quds, or even Jerusalem? I know the Mongols raided but I believe that was a little later than 1225.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Palestine has been known as a REGION OF LAND for millenia.
            It was only invented as the name of a people by a Gay, Egyptian Terrorist in late 1960s.
            David – Can you spot the difference?

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            The Roman gave the name “Palestine” to the Jewish States when they destroyed them. However there has never been any Arab “Palestinian” State. Even Arab leaders say that the “Palestinian” People does not exist. Can you give me the name of a “Palestinian” Arab king?

            Reply to Comment
        • john

          israelis never existed before 1947.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Until I read the last two paragraphs I was thinking as I read this, “why not just rename Erdan’s ministry “The appalling Israeli reincarnation of the East German Stasi”? But then I saw that the author covered this in the last two paragraphs. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mark

      I’m in two minds about this. I don’t like the idea of surveillance of individuals and their personal space in the public domain, where the government deems their actions seditious.

      On the other hand, I feel that if they are advocating a bi-national, democratic state, they should look to do it out of the Palestinian territories; Ramalla, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jenin etc. Better still embedding themselves in the villages and “refugee camps”. If they are rejecting the Israeli model, the model on which they wish to build must come out of the occupied territories.

      Arguing out of the privilege within Israel doesn’t wash for me. Nor for a binational state which does not demonstrate bi-national integration.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Rejecting the Israeli model” is basically no different than “rejecting the Soviet model.” In each case free speech, political speech, is being forbidden by a sinister state security apparatus. On the one hand Israel, through every state effort, is itself creating a de facto binational state on the ground. A fact on the ground. But what it wants then to forbid is political speech (both boycott and speech about boycott) arguing against that de facto binational state being an apartheid state. So Israel wants it both ways. And just like the East German Stasi, it gets to define what it thinks “rejects the Israeli model,” and gets to define this as an apparent thought crime. And gets to define as a crime what is in fact a political opinion about an unspoken fact on the ground that the state itself created. The state, via Erdan and his sinister ministry, wants that fact on the ground–a binational but racially-based apartheid regime, to remain unspoken, undeclared and hidden in plain sight. End result: free speech about the obvious is forbidden. The emperor goes around naked but the peasants are forbidden to talk about it.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      This is really good news. The boycotters are being boycotted!
      Bibi must keep this process going until all the Jihadi appeasers are jailed.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Very striking how the Israelis can’t tolerate free speech. Either within their own society or without. Their whole occupation project cannot survive people in the world expressing their views and exercising consumer choice, a clear form of free speech unequivocally recognized as free speech by the U.S. Supreme Court and other august legal institutions. The Israelis’ occupation project cannot survive the disinfectant of sunlight. So they have to get their Military Intelligence Directorate, you read that right, their Military Intelligence Directorate, to target ordinary citizens exercising free speech, inside and outside Israel. This is telling. It indicates very clearly that the occupation is organized crime. And that the Israelis are now operating at the moral level of the East German Stasi.

      Reply to Comment
    6. BDS is a failure. BDS is antisemitic. BDS is anti-Peace. Why don’t you all boycott, China, Putin’s Russia, Turkmenistan and the list goes on! Because you’re all antisemites like Roger Waters.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Actually, Larry Derfner as well as Lorenzo Kamel have convincingly shown in these pages that the bias runs the other way. The Europeans and Americans give Israel a pass they give nobody else:

        Case in point, see a number of recent articles in +972 Magazine on the special tolerance, the looking the other way, accorded Israel’s dealings with Myanamar.

        Reply to Comment