Israel's Travel Ban: Knesset Bars Entry to Foreigners Who Call for Boycott of Israel or Settlements

New law doesn't include caveat urged by Justice Ministry: To exempt Palestinians who reside in Israel.

A BDS demonstration in southern France, June 2015.
George Robert, AP

The Knesset gave its final approval Monday evening to a bill that forbids granting entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.

The interior minister would be able to make exceptions to this rule if he deems it warranted in a particular case.

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The bill, which was enacted into law after it passed its second and third readings, was backed by 46 lawmakers and opposed by 28. 

Zionist Union this time imposed coalition discipline against the bill, after it gave its MKs freedom to vote as they choose during its first reading. The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee approved the final wording of the boycott bill, whose goal is to fight the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

It says the entry ban will apply to any person “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.”

This definition was copied from a 2011 law that permitted civil lawsuits against BDS activists.

The ban would apply not just to people who call for boycotts against Israel, but also to those who call for boycotts of any Israeli institution or any “area under its control” – i.e., the settlements.

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The Justice Ministry urged the Interior Committee to make an exception for Palestinians with temporary residency in Israel, like those admitted under the family unification program, who spend several years as temporary residents before receiving permanent residency.

Exempting these Palestinians from the ban would make it easier for the law to withstand a court challenge, the ministry argued. But the committee rejected this idea.

One of the bill’s sponsors, MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), said during the debate, “It’s possible to feel national pride and still believe in human rights. It’s possible to defend the name and honor of the State of Israel and there’s no shame in that. This law represents Kulanu as a nationalist socially oriented party that believes in a balance between national pride and human rights.”

Another sponsor, MK Betzalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), said, “What does this law say, after all? A healthy person who loves those who love him and hates those who hate him doesn’t turn the other cheek.”

The leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, strongly criticized the legislation, telling the Knesset of his recent trip to the J Street Conference in the U.S.: "I was in the U.S. two weeks ago, I saw there thousands of Jews who support a boycott of the settlements. These are people who act not against the state but against the occupation.

"I'm against the occupation and for a boycott of the settlements that are a war crime and the theft of land from private individuals. The occupation will end up making Israel a leper everywhere."

MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) said, “Who today doesn’t oppose a boycott of the settlements? Look at the UN, at the EU, at what’s happening in the international community. Do you want to boycott all of them and refuse them entry to Israel? The whole world thinks the settlements are illegal. You are essentially promoting a move that will strengthen the boycott of Israel.”

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) added, “We’re talking about a law that is against freedom of expression, that constitutes political censorship and is meant to silence people. It’s ostensibly against the boycotters of Israel but it doesn’t make a distinction between Israel and the settlements and it thus serves the BDS movement.”

Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson responded to the ban saying that "On the same day as the Trump administration signed the second version of an unconstitutional and discriminatory executive order barring visitors from specific Muslim countries, Israel just passed its own discriminatory travel ban barring supporters of nonviolent tactics to end Israel's violations of Palestinian rights.

"My grandparents are buried in Israel, my husband and kids are citizens, and I lived there for three years, but this bill would bar me from visiting because of my work in support of Palestinian rights. I'm very proud to support the BDS movement, and hope that the response to this ban will hasten the day when anyone can travel there freely."

Peace Now said the ban is "neither Jewish nor democratic" and "a clear violation of freedom of expression. Through this law the Bennetyahu government will not prevent boycott but rather, deteriorate Israel's international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation."

Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said "the law violates basic democratic rules in that it sets a political position as a reason to prevent foreigners from entering Israel and occupied territory. Those who wish to visit certainly do not have to toe the current Israeli government's position on the issue of occupation.

"The law's damage is expected to be particularly great for tens of thousands of Palestinian families where a member is either a temporary resident or holds only a temporary entrance permit and will now be exposed to having these rights lifted for the expression of a political view."  

Adalah and ACRI had appealed to Knesset members ahead of the law's approval, writing that "the interior minister is not entitled to act like a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the citizenry and residents of occupied territory who depend on Israeli checkpoints, which viewpoints are entitled to be heard.

"Freedom of speech is not only about the right to speak, but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage or anger the majority in Israel."