Israel Denying Entry to Left-wing British Activist for Second Time Since 2014

Garry Spedding was denied entry for five years in 2014. Israel says he needed to coordinate his arrival now that the ban is over, he says he applied to the embassy in London and never heard back. He was held for 5 hours and sent back

FILE Photo: Border control at Ben Gurion Airport
Eyal Toueg

The Interior Ministry prevented on Monday Garry Spedding, a 28-year-old left-wing British activist, from entering Israel for the second time since his admission was denied in 2014. Spedding was held at the airpot for five hours before being sent back to his country. 

At the time, the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority prevented Spedding's entry for a five-year period under a "fear of public disturbance" justification. Spedding's entry was denied Monday although the five-year ban has ended, and he is now being held at the Ben Gurion International Airport holding facility pending deportation.

According to materials presented by the state to the appellate court in 2014 when Spedding petitioned the decision to bar his entry, he was refused due to a suspicion that he intended to participate in political activity in the West Bank. In addition, the Foreign Ministry had information that Spedding had been one of the organizers of a Belfast protest, which turned violent, against an Israeli lecturer. Finally, the state said Spedding had violated a previous entry visa and said he had lied at passport control when asked for the reasons for his visit. Spedding was denied entry into Israel for a 10-year period, but the appellate court reduced it to five years, which ended this year.

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The immigration authority said Monday that Spedding's entry had been denied again because he arrived without pre-approved authorization from the Israeli embassy in London as he had been required to do the last time he was deported from Israel. Spedding and his lawyer, Gaby Lasky, say that he did in fact apply to the embassy multiple times, and even turned to the Israeli ambassador himself through a friend who serves as a British parliament member, but never received an answer.

Spedding told Haaretz that he wished to visit friends in Israel and meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. “It is disappointing that after having complied with a five year restriction on my travel, I am once again being refused entry by Israeli immigration authorities. Their decision ultimately prevents me from undertaking entirely legitimate democratic activities. My involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict has always been driven by a genuine and consistent concern for the security, human rights, justice and dignity of all parties."

Spedding added that he does not actively advocate for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and is not a member of the BDS movement. He also said he has been an "active and vociferous campaigner" against anti-Semitism, including in the Labour Party.

In response to claims that he had organized a violent protest against an Israeli lecturer, Spedding showcased a letter from Queen’s University Belfast that said that Spedding had no connection to the violence.

Prior to his first barred entry, Spedding visited Israel four times in 2014 without any incident. When he was denied, immigration authority officials took his mobile phone and said they found evidence in it that showed he'd lied about the purpose of his visit. Among other things, the officials wrote in a report that was submitted to the appellate court as well, that in response to one of Spedding's Facebook posts discussing his planned trip to Israel, a friend asked whether he would come to the West Bank Palestinian city of Bil'in. Spedding didn't respond to this question.

The officials also added that among the correspondences they found in Spedding's phone was an anti-Semitic saying, when Spedding wrote a friend that he was "looking forward to our anti-Semitic adventure." This was a joke: Days earlier, Spedding had been accused by right-wing bloggers online that he was anti-Semitic, which is why he used the accusation to joke around with his friends, but the border officials used it as evidence against him.

The Population and Immigration Authority said in response: "This is a case of a British passenger that landed in Israel after his entry had been denied for various reasons. At the time, it was decided that he had to coordinate his entry prior to his arrival in Israel. The passenger landed in Israel and set facts on the ground. It was therefore decided to bar his entry."