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Why has Israel banned Jewish leftists but not members of Nazi-linked groups?

Israel has banned leaders and key activists from Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, among other groups that support BDS, from entering the country. So why doesn’t it extend the same restrictions to members of Nazi-affiliated groups?

Israeli BDS activists take part in an anti-corruption demonstration in Tel Aviv's Habima Square, December 9th, 2017. (Hagar Shezaf)

Israeli BDS activists take part in an anti-corruption demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, December 9th, 2017. (Hagar Shezaf)

Israel’s latest step in its self-described “offensive” against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is to include Jewish Voice for Peace, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and the American Friends Service Committee on a list of organizations whose leading members are banned from entering the country. Although the law barring boycott advocates was passed in March last year, the blacklisted organizations only came to light on Saturday. But while Jews who support the boycott movement are now barred from visiting the country, members of Nazi-allied organizations and anti-Semitic political parties continue to be allowed into Israel — including at the invitation of government officials.

The Israeli government apparently considers the banning of BDS activists acceptable behavior for a democracy, a view facilitated by its having very diligently cultivated and promoted the lie that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement aimed at destroying Israel. This lie has been remarkably successful, despite the clear statement on the official website of the BDS movement that its goal is to secure the same human and civil rights for Palestinians as everyone else living in Israeli-controlled territory. But if granting equal rights to everyone who lives in the territory controlled by Israel will cause the state to implode, then surely those who oppose BDS on those grounds are ignoring a fundamental problem — that a state which cannot survive if all its residents have equal rights is by definition not a democracy.

It’s also worth looking at which political opinions the government does not deem grounds for banning individuals from the country. In September last year, for example, Sebastian Gorka — who belongs to a Hungarian Nazi-allied group, and sports a medal declaring his affiliation — was a keynote speaker at an anti-terrorism conference in the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya.

Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka seen wearing a medal from the Vitzei Rend, a Hungarian group listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. (Fox News screenshot)

Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka seen wearing a medal from the Vitzei Rend, a Hungarian group listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. (Fox News screenshot)

Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria and the country’s vice chancellor, has been hosted by members of the ruling Likud party several times in recent years, despite the party’s Nazi roots and Strache’s own dabbling in anti-Semitic imagery. While Israel’s Foreign Ministry in December took the step of temporarily restricting contacts with FPA government ministers following the Austrian elections, they are not prohibited from visiting Israel — and Netanyahu’s office is said to be in favor of accepting the party’s claim to have broken with its anti-Semitic roots.

In January of last year, the secretary-general of France’s far-right National Front (Front National, or FN) — which has traditionally counted anti-Semitism among its core ideologies, despite party head Marine Le Pen’s attempts to refurbish its image — visited Israel for a series of meetings with government and army officials. As with the Freedom Party of Austria, Israel officially refrains from direct contact with the FN due to its history, but nonetheless allows its members into the country.

In its choices over who and who not to ban from the country, the Israeli government has demonstrated that its concern is not what Nazis and the rest of the far-right think about Jews, but rather what they think about Muslims, leftists, and the proper way — i.e., the authoritarian way — to run a country. Gorka, Strache et al mirror the dominant political culture in Israel today, one that is anti-democratic, racist, populist, virulently Islamophobic and intolerant of the merest suggestion of left-liberal values. And while their Nazi ties may prompt “official” Israel to purse its lips and furrow its brows, they are clearly quite welcome to visit the country.

Protesters hold signs calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) during a Washington, D.C., protest against Israel's offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Protesters hold signs calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) during a Washington, D.C., protest against Israel’s offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Yet there’s a further element to Israel’s latest blacklist, which specifically concerns Jewish Voice for Peace. They are, of course, not unique in being banned from the country for their political outlook; as executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson told +972 on Saturday, JVP members are “now joining Palestinians, Muslims from around the world, people of color and other activists who are often barred from entry.” JVP members are also far from the first Jewish left-wing activists to have been refused entry to Israel-Palestine.

But the formality of this step — banning outright leaders and key members of a Jewish organization — is yet further concrete evidence of what has been apparent for some time: that even as the Israeli government makes crystal-clear its commitment to having as few non-Jews as possible within its borders, it is also becoming increasingly blatant about possessing criteria for the types of Jews it considers kosher.

This latest incident should be added to a gallery of physical and moral assaults on the Jews who fall outside these criteria, whether it’s the recent deportation of a Kenyan Jew with a valid visa (“Do you want half of Africa coming here?” cried an Interior Ministry official); the arrests of women who try to bring a Torah to the Western Wall; or the violent disdain for Reform Jews, whom Jerusalem’s chief rabbi not long ago declared to be “worse than Holocaust deniers.”

There is a toxic mix of prejudices at work here: racism, illiberalism, religious chauvinism. As the checks on these impulses fall by the wayside — and not just in Israel — these blacklists will continue to grow. For now, though, this latest ban sends a clear message: acting in support of Palestinian human and civil rights makes you persona non grata in Israel.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      I wouldn’t imagine many Neo Nazis will want to visit Israel. I suspect anyone delivering Nazi salutes, shouting anti-semitic slogans may be badly beaten up on the streets. Hence, there is no point in trying to ban these groups.

      972 mag – they really do say some silly things sometimes.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You simply know not of what you speak. Or you know only too well I suspect. Visiting neo-Nazis invited by the GoI of course don’t march delivering Nazi salutes and anti-Semitic slogans in Israel. They wear a mask, the same mask they wear in polite society outside Israel. Just with an extra layer of hypocritical, cynical face paint pasted on. When Heinz-Christian Strache of the Austrian neo-Nazi FPÖ visited Israel, shamefully invited by the GoI, everybody assiduously ignored that fact that his party members openly mourn the fall of the Third Reich and engage in all sorts of anti-Semitic garbage in other less public and traceable forums. “But that Obama is a horrible horrible anti-Semite and don’t you forget it!” What a farce.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      The far-left is a much bigger danger for our country than far-right activists coming from Europe. As most of Israelis I consider that the Israeli extreme left consists of traitors and kapos.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Arthur Chance

      The problem with BDS can be summed up by the photo in the article. Whatever it may say on the “official website of the BDS movement that its goal is to secure the same human and civil rights for Palestinians as everyone else living in Israeli-controlled territory” These words are never seen on the posters of those demonstrating in support of the BDS movement.

      Look at the photo: What do the banners read ? “Free Palestine” & “Let Gaza Live”. These demonstrators are not calling for equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories, which is a motive that few would argue with but for the creation of a Palestinian State and for the end of a Jewish state in Israel.

      I f they want Gaza to live on the same basis as the BDS movement wants for the Israeli controlled areas then let’s see them start by putting that into practice in Gaza and in the Palestinian controlled areas on the West Bank.

      Then we can have the discussion about how to ensure that everyone involved can have the rights which we would all aspire to.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sheldon Ranz

        How does asking from freedom and being allowed to live contradict the desire for equality?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Arthur Chance:

        “Free Palestine” & “Let Gaza Live”

        These words are absolutely consistent with the BDS movement goal being to secure the same human and civil rights for Palestinians as everyone else living in Israeli-controlled territory.

        “These demonstrators are not calling for equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories”

        These demonstrators self-evidently are calling for equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories.

        “equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories, which is a motive that few would argue with”

        Excuse me, Chance, but what planet is it that you are writing in from? The entire Israeli government and the entire Israeli right wing political spectrum argue day and night, tenaciously, in every way possible, against equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories, and work day and night to make such equal rights impossible.

        “for the creation of a Palestinian State and for the end of a Jewish state in Israel.”

        What’s wrong with a Palestinian State? It would be the equivalent of an Israeli State. “A Jewish State” on the other hand is antithetical to your assertion that “equal rights for everyone in Israeli controlled territories…is a motive that few would argue with” — you in fact are arguing against it yourself with your insistence on “a Jewish State.” I know this is going to be hard for you to get your mind around, but Noam Sheizaf has explained it well and fully here:

        By Noam Sheizaf |Published September 11, 2013
        Why I oppose recognizing Israel as a Jewish state
        https://972mag.com/why-i-oppose-recognizing-israel-as-a-jewish-state/78751/

        Reply to Comment
      • Paul D.

        In contrast to a ethno-theo-centric “Jewish State” a Palestinian state, as they have already demonstrated over hundreds of years of history, would be far more tolerant of different religions and cultures. All that would be required is reasonable proficiency in Arabic. Unlike the awful state of Israel, under a Republic of Palestine, nobody, including Jews, would be forced out of their homes and land, nobody, including Jews would be oppressed, nobody including Jews, would be imprisoned, tortured or summarily executed in the street.

        Reply to Comment
    4. JitKunDo

      BDS wants to destroy Israel. The founders of the BDS movement have been clear about this being the inevitable outcome of their demands regardless of how many times they hide behind the rights narrative.

      None of the right-wing individuals you mentioned want to destroy Israel. Additionally none are at present anti-Semitic. Your accusations against these groups and individuals are based on innuendo and lies.

      I would say you should be ashamed of your ignorance and of your blatant lies but you have no shame left. All you do is produce propaganda for the “destroy Israel” crowd.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Your accusation depends upon a definition of Israel as an ethnocracy. The accusation falls apart otherwise. Since others, such as Natasha Roth, do not want Israel to be a Feiglinist state, they are not going to agree that Israel is being destroyed by boycotting the occupation and working towards a state of all its citizens. Once upon a time there were other workable solutions for your purposes but you foreclosed them. You might have been able to have a nice, tidy little ethnocracy with a “manageable” second-class minority had you been satisfied with a decent two state solution, but you had to have it all, and now you’re stuck with one state, at present an ethnocracy, the demographics of which mean that it is necessarily going to be an apartheid state as long as you don’t want the ethnocracy character of the state to be “destroyed.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Ben: The Jewish demography is higher every year even in the secular families. The Arab demography in sinking. In the 1967 auchwitz lines the birth rate is the same for Arabs and Jews. In the Judea and Samaria, the Jewish demography is 60 % higher than the Arab one. Demography is not a danger for the Jewish People. All rabbis will confirm.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “All the rabbis will confirm.”

            In the first place, these rabbis have not ever seen the inside of a modern mathematics textbook in their lives, so please, Halevy, do not ask us to take seriously their pronouncements on complex scientific, demographic and statistical matters. Please. Secondly, you are applying simplistic slogans about demography to very complicated scientific and political and moral and strategic issues. At the very least you need to listen to Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, among others:
            read more: https://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/a-jewish-demographic-state-1.41134

            Reply to Comment
        • JitKunDo

          My accusation is simply based on the fact that the founders and supporters of the BDS movement admit that they are working towards eliminating a country called Israel out of existence through whatever means necessary. I know it is true. Natasha Roth knows it is true. And you know it is true. Everything else is just garbage propaganda designed to fool naive Westerners.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is cant. Hot air. It is, as Roth says, ”a view facilitated by its having very diligently cultivated and promoted the lie that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement aimed at destroying Israel. This lie has been remarkably successful, despite the clear statement on the official website of the BDS movement that its goal is to secure the same human and civil rights for Palestinians as everyone else living in Israeli-controlled territory. But if granting equal rights to everyone who lives in the territory controlled by Israel will cause the state to implode, then surely those who oppose BDS on those grounds are ignoring a fundamental problem — that a state which cannot survive if all its residents have equal rights is by definition not a democracy.”

            Reply to Comment
    5. ezra

      plas cant build on area c thats 50 percent of the west bank…they care gettiing property stolen in area b and c…thousands of new setttlements announced..including E1 which the EU stopped in 1996…in many ways without international intervention namely UN troops onto the west bank..which isnt gonna happen the palks will be left with maybe 10 to 15 percent of historic palestine…holy shit the pals shud just annoucne agitations and disruptions in london and paris…thats the only hope left

      Reply to Comment