Concerned that its delegates might be stopped at Ben Gurion International Airport and denied entry into the country due to recently enacted legislation, a prominent Jewish-American organization has cancelled its annual summer trip to Israel.
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Americans for Peace Now is the first organization that regularly brings groups to Israel to respond in this way to the law, passed last month in the Knesset, that would bar from Israel any foreigners who have publicly expressed support for a boycott of the country, even if that boycott only includes the West Bank settlements.
In a letter obtained by Haaretz and sent on Friday to prospective participants in its 2017 Israel Study Tour, the directors of Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of the Israeli Peace Now movement, wrote: "We do not know yet whether we will reschedule this tour to another date this year or whether we’ll have to suspend our Israel Study Tour program indefinitely, until the law is either revoked, amended or applied in a way that does not impact APN, its staff members, board members and activists.”
Americans for Peace Now, a nonprofit that advocates for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been running the Israel Study Tour, one of its flagship programs, for close to 30 years. Although it has occasionally been forced to adjust its itinerary because of security considerations, this is the first time that it has ever cancelled the entire trip. Each year, the organization brings anywhere from 15 to 30 participants on the trip, including board members and donors. The itinerary typically includes meetings with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, security experts, civil society activists, peace activists, writers and artists.
“The law is a stain on Israeli democracy,” the letter says. "It betrays the democratic principles upon which Israel was established. Although hard to believe, there is a possibility that the Israeli authorities, striving to minimize anti-occupation protest in June, the 50th ‘anniversary' of the occupation, might choose a broad interpretation of the law and deny entry to individuals affiliated with APN, such as APN tour participants.” The letter notes that while the organization opposes boycotting Israel and Israeli institutions, it does support boycotting the settlements. "We view it as a legitimate way to express our opposition to the settlements and to the occupation of the West Bank,” it says.
This year’s trip had been planned for early June. Americans for Peace Now had requested clarifications from Israeli authorities about how the new law would be applied before finalizing its itinerary. When no response was forthcoming, the organization decided to cancel the trip.
The organization’s board includes prominent Jewish-American supporters of Israel, among them Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Mandy Patinkin and Michael Walzer.
As reported earlier this week, 575 Jewish-American students recently sent a letter to Birthright, the biggest sponsor of trips to Israel in the world, asking it to clarify its position on the new law. Specifically, the students demanded responses to three questions: Does Birthright intend to impose a screening process to vet applicants according to their views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the settlements and other political issues? If participants are turned back at Ben-Gurion Airport because of the new law, will Birthright provide them with assistance and support? Has Birthright been in touch with the Israeli program about how the new law will affect participation in its trips?
Birthright has been directing those with questions about its position on the new law to its website, where it simply writes: “Birthright Israel does not inquire about the political views of its applicants and welcomes all Jewish young adults from around the globe to visit Israel.”