Israeli Lawmakers Move to Ban Settlement-boycott Advocates From Entering Country

The bill aims to ban foreign citizens who call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements, or those who represent organizations that do so.

Protesters march in Marseille in support of BDS in June 2015.
Georges Robert/AFP

The Knesset Interior Committee on Wednesday initially approved a bill that would bar the issuing of entry visas or residency permits in Israel to foreign citizens who call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements.

Entry would be barred in two cases, the first being if the foreign citizen knowingly and publicly calls for such a boycott, or if the citizen represents an organization that calls for a boycott. The bill's definition of a boycott of Israel relies on a law from 2011, which goes aganist the boycott of Israel, its institutions or territory under its control, namely the settlements. The bill also allowed a civil suit to be filed against those who advocate for a boycott.

The new bill, sponsored by MK Betzalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), is part of the fight against BDS and would change the existing law, in which an automatic entry visa is granted, but the interior minister retains the right to deny entry to someone who calls for a boycott of Israel. In the updated bill, the interior minister will also have the authority to permit the entry of someone whose is barred by the new stipulation.

During the hearing, the MKs decided to reject a proposal by the Justice Ministry to make an exception in the law for Palestinians with temporary entry permits who reside in Israel, for family unification or other reasons. “There are people with a temporary permit, who could be in Israel for many years in this interim situation, and perhaps an exception should be made for them, to strengthen the bill versus possible judicial criticism,” said the Justice Ministry representative, attorney Revital Sternberg.

Committee chairman MK David Amsalem criticized the proposal. “Why should I bring into my home someone who defames and harms the state? We’re not afraid of criticism, but we have our national honor. Someone who has already received from us temporary residency, and is under consideration for permanent residency, comes to hurt us, as a guest – why should we keep him here?”

MK Smotrich commented: “I completely reject the implication that the law in its present formula would have trouble meeting the test of the High Court. It is totally proportionate. Someone who has no problem receiving a privilege from us, and then during the test period turns around and spits in our faces – he should be the first one to have his residency permit revoked.”

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said, “This is a law to legalize censorship against opponents of the occupation. We’re all against a boycott of Israel, but this law seeks to silence people on a political issue, and people have the right to a political opinion.” Zandberg then made three proposed changes to the bill, which the committee eventually rejected, approving the original version to be brought before the full Knesset.

MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) criticized the bill: “It’s a terrible bill, not only because is unnecessary but because we are against boycotts and now this law would be used to boycott others. This bill will only add fuel to the fire for the haters to use against us – to say that again and again and again, we seek to oppress and silence people.” German then moved to strike the proposed new sections and instead rely on the authorities granted to the interior minister by the existing law.