New Israel Fund's VP Delayed, Questioned at Airport by Israeli Officials Over NGO Funding

Jennifer Gorovitz grilled about her plans by a number of officials at Israel's airport, asked about NIF funding to various NGOs in Israel.

Jennifer Gorovitz, the New Israel Fund's vice president for operations and administration
Jennifer Gorovitz, the New Israel Fund's vice president for operations and administration Flicker

>> UPDATE: Lawmaker blasts questioning of New Israel Fund's VP as 'political persecution' >>

The vice president of the New Israel Fund, Jennifer Gorovitz, was delayed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday by Israeli immigration personnel.

Gorovitz, who came to Israel to participate in a NIF board meeting, told Haaretz that she was delayed for about 90 minutes and was questioned three different times. She said she was asked about the NIF's activities and on the funding it supplies to different NGOs in Israel.

This is the first time a senior official in the fund has been delayed at the airport.

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Gorovitz, 50, joined the NIF in 2015, after serving for a decade in various positions in San Francisco’s Jewish community, the most senior of which was director of the San Francisco Jewish Federation. Gorovitz serves as the NIF’s vice president for operations and administration, and is responsible for budget issues, among other areas.

Gorovitz said that she was standing at the passport control line and when her turn arrived she told the border control officer that she was here on business. When she was asked where she worked, she said she worked for Shatil, the NIF division that advises nonprofit organizations, and that it advises civil society groups in Israel.

That’s when the routine questioning got complicated. According to Gorovitz, the border control officer asked her if she worked with Palestinian NGOs, and she said that her organization works with all Israeli citizens. He asked her if she planned to do any work in the territories, and she said no, but he didn’t seem to believe her. 

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She said she gave the officer details of the hotel she’d be staying at, contact information for senior NIF officials she was planning to meet, and the address of the NIF offices in Jerusalem.

Gorovitz said that she asked the border control official if there was any problem, saying that she was Jewish and a Zionist, but that the officer made a sarcastic remark about her Zionism. He made her wait 10 minutes and then asked her to wait in a nearby room, where she underwent further questioning.

While she was questioned, Gorovitz saw that her interviewer was holding a document with a considerable amount of information about her. One of the words highlighted on the document was BDS.

"She asked me what the New Israel Fund does and I told her we finance organizations in civil society in Israel and that we object to BDS. She asked me who we finance, and then asked me to wait outside," she said.

After a few more minutes of waiting, Gorovitz was sent to a third round of questioning. This time she was questioned by two men in civil clothing. In this case too the two did not identify themselves or say to which state body they belong. "They asked the same questions that were asked in the first two rounds of questioning, including the one about the Israeli NGOs that the NIF funds. After a few more minutes they released me and let me enter Israel," she said.

After she was detained, Gorovich notified the NIF people, who asked lawyer Gabi Lasky to find out from the Immigration Authority why she was being detained. At the same time NIF President Talia Sasson contacted the Immigration Authority and asked why Gorovich was detained. Gorovich said Sasson was told the detention stemmed from security related considerations.

"Questioning at Ben-Gurion Airport by the Immigration Authority is a step before preventing entry to Israel," Lasky said. "This situation is extremely rare for a Jewish person, who can live in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return. It's very strange to detain such a person for questioning to find out if he or she can enter or not for a civil society conference. It's wacky. When I contacted the Immigration Authority they knew immediately who I was talking about and a few minutes later they let her go."

Sasson added that "detaining a senior NIF official and former head of the San Francisco Federation at the entrance to Israel is a serious act aimed at intimidating a social activist because of her activities for Israel and Israeli society. The Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu, has been persecuting Israeli human rights activists for some time now. Now this policy is being directed at diaspora Jews as well. This exhibitionary arrest won't deter the NIF, its staff and the organizations it supports from acting for peace, ending the occupation and social justice in Israel."

The spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority, Sabine Hadad, said in response, “The passenger, who raised the border inspectors’ suspicion, as occasionally happens, was taken for brief questioning and released. Altogether she was detained for about an hour. Beyond that, it’s not clear where the inaccurate facts were taken from, in view of the fact that the issue of BDS wasn’t mentioned and wasn’t the reason for the questioning.”

"Jenn Gorovitz has dedicated her life to promoting the best of Israeli society," said Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund. "She is precisely the kind of person Israel should be proud to host as a guest. This shows that the ultra right-wing government is shamelessly using a political litmus test to decide who can enter the country and who cannot. We will not accept an Israel that is for ultra-nationalists only."