Knesset bans entry to foreigners calling for boycotts of Israel


(JTA) — Israel enacted a law banning entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

The Knesset passed the law by a vote of 46-28 on Monday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge boycotting areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

The measure was meant to target groups, rather than individuals, according to Roy Folkman, a lawmaker from the Kulanu party.

“It doesn’t cover any individual who ever said something. It’s aimed mainly at organizations that work against Israel,” Folkman said, according to Haaretz.

The Interior Ministry will be able to make exceptions to the law, and foreigners with residency permits will not be affected, according to The Times of Israel.

U.S. left-wing Jewish groups condemned the ban.

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, said the ban was counterproductive.

“This bill is the latest piece of Israeli legislation to undermine Israel’s own democratic principles and its international standing,” the group said in a statement it excerpted on Twitter.

“Passage of this legislation sends a message to the Israeli public and to the world, that as far as the Israeli political establishment is concerned, legitimate political expression is verboten,” said Debra DeLee, the president of Americans for Peace Now. “Such a message will further quash dissent inside Israel and will further portray Israel as a state that betrays the democratic principles upon which it was established.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who directs T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group, said a broad swath of U.S. Jewish groups could face a ban for speaking out against settlements, or even for snubbing them.

“Does it mean an organization like the Jewish Federations of North America, that has a policy of not taking its groups across the Green Line is barred from coming into Israel?” she said. “Is an organization like mine that called on the Jewish National Fund not to invest in settlements, on the list?”

Last week, Israel denied a tourist visa to an American employee of Human Rights Watch days after denying his application for a work visa, citing the organization’s alleged anti-Israel bias. In explaining the visa denial, the Israeli government said the group’s “public actions and reports have focused on politics in service of Palestinian propaganda while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’” The employee, Omar Shakir, was later granted permission to come to Israel on a 10-day tourist visa, which he was given upon his arrival at Ben Gurion International airport on Monday.

Iain Levine, the program director for Human Rights Watch, said it was “deeply troubling that Israeli officials, despite promises to the contrary, have denied Human Rights Watch’s country director a visa to enter Israel.”

“Blocking access for human rights workers impedes our ability to document abuses by all sides and to engage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and partners to improve the human rights situation for all,” he said.

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