The Boycott law: Israel takes a step away from democracy

March 09, 2017 12:00

Has Israel passed a law that could be used to refuse entry to a significant number of British Jews? This is a question that has been whirring around social media since the passing of the Boycott Law on Monday evening.

The law does not distinguish between those who discourage buying products from settlements and those who call for wholesale Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on all products, companies, artists and universities within Israel.

This lumping together means that what, on the face of it, seems to be an anti-BDS measure becomes a move that is damaging to Israel. By conflating boycotts of settlements with boycotts of the state of Israel itself, the legislation makes common cause with Israel’s adversaries who see no distinction between the legitimacy of the vibrant democracy that exists within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and the undemocratic reality that exists in the occupied territories.

Last month, my US colleague Jen Gorovitz was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport. She was interrogated about New Israel Fund’s support for Israeli civil society groups working on social justice and equality, some of whom can be critical of their government’s policies. Although a partial apology was received from the Ministry of Interior, it is shocking that someone who has spent their career working tirelessly for Israel, raising millions of dollars, notably as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation, should be treated this way. It speaks to an attempt by the Israeli government to use a political litmus test to decide who may enter the country. This legislation takes us further down this anti-democratic path of silencing differing opinions.

New Israel Fund opposes the global BDS movement. We share the concern that segments of the BDS movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland. NIF has also never called for a settlement boycott, but we oppose attempts to silence those with dissenting political views. If we believe in free speech and cherish Israel’s democratic ideals, we need to be committed to upholding the right of Israelis and others to boycott settlements as a protest against the occupation and a show of support for two states.

The Boycott Law is about politics, not boycotts. A swathe of British Jews now fear they may be denied entry to Israel based on statements they have made about settlements. Whether or not this materialises, alarm bells should be ringing. A law that allows for discriminatory tests to decide who may enter Israel is wrong. Israel is surely better served by isolating BDS without silencing supporters of Israel or diluting its democratic norms.


Adam Ognall is Chief Executive of NIF UK


March 09, 2017 12:00

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