Barring Entry to BDS Supporters Does Israel More Harm Than Good, Top Think Tank Finds

INSS researchers say the amendment to the Entry into Israel Law 'falls short of aiding the struggle against the delegitimization of Israel, and arguably might even intensify it'

Lara Alqasem entering Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2018.
David Bachar

Researchers from the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies have found that the positive aspects of a legislative amendment that bars entry into the country of some anti-Israel boycott activists "appear to be largely local tactical benefits, whereas the potential damage is more significant and extensive."

The institute's research fellows, Michal Hatuel Radoshitzky, Amir Prager and Shahar Eilam, did a cost-benefit analysis of the amendment to the Entry into Israel Law, which was enacted in March, 2017. "As the amendment falls short of aiding the struggle against the delegitimization of Israel, and arguably might even intensify it, measures should be taken to prevent further damage resulting from additional legislative measures or the flawed use of existing tools," the authors wrote.

Among the cases they examined was that of Lara Alqasem, the 22-year-old American student who was barred entry into Israel in October based on the amendment, as a result of her alleged involvement in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Alqasem, who is of Palestinian heritage, was ultimately allowed in to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after her case was taken to the Supreme Court

>> Analysis: It's not Lara Alqasem or BDS that Israelis need to fear

In ruling in her favor, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel wrote: "The Law of Entry to Israel is intended to protect the state's sovereignty, and the public's safety and security. It does not have a component of penalty, or revenge for previous bad behavior." He added: "The Interior Ministry has openly admitted that it does not have any evidence of the appellant's engaging in boycott activity since April 2017, except for mysterious 'indications' whose essence hasn't been clarified and regarding which no evidence has been submitted." Citing Alqasem's involvement in the group Students for Justice in Palestine, Hendel stated: "The material submitted regarding the appellant's activity in the SJP organization shows that even at that stage, the boycott activity was minor and limited in character."

In enumerating the benefits of the legislation, the authors of the INSS paper mention that up to this point, only a small number of people have been denied entry into the country, meaning that the direct impact of the amendment has been limited. "The amendment is likely to have a deterring effect on activists, and presumably some have chosen or will choose to not try to enter Israel," it was noted, although the BDS movement's activities "are not dependent on the physical presence of activists in the country or in the Palestinian territories."

Among the purported disadvantages, the authors wrote: "In the global campaign against the legitimacy, image, and international standing of the State of Israel, both pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists strive to influence the consciousness and perceptions of large audiences, with an emphasis on liberal target groups in the West." 

"In this campaign, Israel’s most significant asset is the fact that it is a democratic state that champions individual rights and freedom of expression. However, the amendment of the Entry into Israel Law is one in a series of recent legislative measures and government decisions perceived by progressive audiences around the Western world as anti-democratic and anti-liberal, and in turn, arouses antagonism toward Israel," they stated. "Israel is perceived as a state that is motivated by fear of the media and civil political organization. This image strengthens the perception that Israel has something to hide, and thereby bolsters the narrative that BDS activists seek to promote in the international arena."

The authors also noted the law's impact on the Israeli academic community, where concern has been expressed that it would provide grounds for the claim that academic conferences should not be held in the country because some potential participants would not be allowed in. And from a legal standpoint, they noted that even prior to the amendment of the Entry into Israel Law, the interior minister had broad authority to bar individuals from coming into the country.

The authors recommend that future legislative proceedings examine the possible implications for Israel's international standing and its relationship with Diaspora Jewry, as well as whether the amendment serves the purpose for which it was passed. The authors also call for improving communications among the agencies involved in the law's implementation and add: "Israel would be wise to limit the invocation of this legislation, and to deny entry and residency in Israel only in extreme cases that fully meet the requirements and criteria of the law."