The Population, Immigration and Border Authority in the Interior Ministry is refusing to release any so-called “blacklist” of BDS activists who will not be allowed to enter Israel because of their support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The authority says it cannot release such a list because to would violate the privacy of any such individuals.
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The authority, along with the Strategic Affairs Ministry, compiled a list of activists at the instructions of Interior Minister Arye Dery and Strategic Affairs and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
In response to a Freedom of Information request from human rights activists, the population authority originally said it has no such lists. After another request, the answer changed and it said it cannot provide such a list “because it is private information whose release is a violation of privacy” and is prohibited by the Freedom of Information Law.
In March, the Knesset amended the Law of Entry to prevent providing entry permits to those who call for a boycott of Israel. In June, the population authority published new regulations allowing the blocking of a person’s entry to Israel if they have called for a boycott of the country.
Three weeks ago, the authority also published criteria clarifying that entry would be denied to major activists in organizations that support a boycott or actively and continually work to promote it. The criteria state that an organization’s being anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian, or its having a critical agenda toward the government of Israel, is not in itself a reason to deny entry to Israel.
In late July, around the time the new criteria were released, Haaretz reported that the population authority denied entry to five American activists in groups supporting BDS. Israel provided the German airline Lufthansa with the activists’ details in advance and said it would not allow them to enter Israel. The airline prevented them from boarding the plane at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, but allowed other members of the delegation to fly to Israel. The authority said “these were prominent activists who promoted boycotts against Israel.”
The very same day, attorney Eitay Mack filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law to receive any such lists of BDS activists. “After an examination with the professional bodies, I would like to respond that there are no ‘blacklists,’” said Mali Dudian, in charge of Freedom of Information Law issues in the Population Authority, a few days later. She said the authority operates according to the law and instructions of the ministers involved, Erdan and Dery.
“Criteria to prevent the entry according to this policy were published on the Population and Immigration Authority website. As concerning activists whose entry to Israel was denied, the denial was based on specific information that existed at the time of the incident involving them,” she added.
Mack asked the authority again for the list of names and wrote that the claim there are no “blacklists” contradicts the statement that says entry was denied based on “specific information.” Their entry was not blocked when they arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport – they were not allowed to board the plane in the United States, he wrote in reply.
Because the activists were American citizens who do not need a visa in advance to enter Israel, then “it is not clear how your ministry collected the information about them or knew precisely when they were expected to board the plane, in order to inform the airline about it in time,” wrote Mack. “Therefore, without a doubt that at the very least your ministry sent an announcement about it in advance to the airline.”
Because of the refusal to hand over any such lists of BDS activists, Mack, along with four other human rights activists, filed a petition with the Jerusalem District Court last week. They asked the court to order the population authority to release the lists, as well as the minutes of the meetings and decisions concerning the lists, background material gathered on the people and organizations and correspondence with foreign bodies on the matter, including other countries and airlines.
The danger of a slippery slope exists just from the existence of “blacklists” of international activists who are fulfilling their right of freedom of expression, which is still legal in the countries in which they are citizens, states the court brief. This danger includes giving the lists to foreign bodies without any transparency and without the people and organizations on the lists knowing about it, wrote the plaintiffs.
“A danger exists that the existence of ‘blacklists’ of international activists will serve to establish in darkness and indirectly ‘blacklists’ of Israeli human rights activists too (for example, Israeli activists who are in contact with international activists),” states the petition.
The population authority has yet to respond to the court petition.