New Guideline Permits Israel to Deny Entry to Visitors Over 'BDS Activity'

Regulation follows the passing of a law this past March that forbids the issuance of a visa or other entry permit to foreign citizens who have called for a boycott of Israel or the settlements

A BDS supporter in Barcelona, Spain.
Albert Llop / Anadolu Agency

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority last month issued a directive implementing the recently-passed law that blocks entry to Israel of visitors because of “BDS activity.”

The regulation, entitled “Handling entries at Israel’s international border crossings,” lists 28 reasons for refusing someone entry to Israel, and constitutes the first time such a policy has been set down in writing. “BDS activity” is specifically listed. The regulation follows the passing of a law this past March that forbids the issuance of a visa or other entry permit to foreign citizens who have called for a boycott of Israel or the settlements.

Other reasons the regulation gives for refusing entry include risk of security or criminal activity; lies told at the border; suspected intent to remain in Israel illegally; lack of cooperation with border officials; an inappropriate visa; entry with the intent to work illegally; disrupting public order; impersonation; violent behavior; suspected intent to carry out missionary activity and past refusal of entry or illegal presence. Another reason to refuse entry is “suspicion of becoming a burden on the state,” presumably meaning someone suspected of not having the financial means to finance his stay in Israel.

The regulation makes it clear that this is not a definitive list and that border guards are permitted to refuse entry for other reasons as well.

Over the past year, at the instruction of Interior Minister Arye Dery and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, Israel has blocked the entry of a few people known to support the BDS movement, which calls for boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel to pressure it to end the occupation, at the very least. In December, entry was denied to Dr. Isabel Phiri, a Malawi citizen who lives in Switzerland and is a senior official in the World Council of Churches. At the time, the Population Authority said, “This is actually the first time the State of Israel is refusing the entry of a tourist because of anti-Israel activity and the promotion of economic, cultural and academic boycotts against Israel.”

Phiri, however, told Haaretz at the time that the written explanation she was given for the refusal states that her entry was blocked “to prevent illegal immigration.”

The new regulation states that the person refused entry must be given a written statement that he is being blocked, which must note whether the refusal was for immigration, security or criminal reasons, but need not elaborate further. However, authority officials are required to hand over reports on his questioning to the refused person or to his attorney, if asked.

Simone Zimmerman on Israel's travel ban Haaretz.com via YouTube

The regulation calls for the barred person to be returned as soon as possible “to the place from which he began his journey,” or “any other place that will allow his entry.” The regulation does acknowledge the principle of non-refoulement from the UN Convention of the Status of Refugees by stating “A person refused entry will not be returned to a country where there is a threat to his life due to his race, religion, nationality, his membership in a specific social grouping or his political views.”

In a section entitled, “Handling a person who seeks to enter the region,” there are instructions regarding people who plan to visit the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, which state that if a border guard is persuaded that this is the visitor’s intention, he is not to be permitted entry but referred to the relevant Israel Defense Forces official for handling. “If the relevant IDF official decides to refuse the person entry, the reason for refusal is not to be stated in the report on his questioning, only that entry was refused by that official.” If the border inspector believes the person plans to visit both Israel and the West Bank or Gaza, the IDF’s position on his entry must be sought.

The regulation states that the authority to refuse entry to diplomats does not lie with the population authority, but with the Foreign Ministry. “In the event that the Foreign Ministry decides to refuse the person entry, the reason for refusal is not to be stated in the report on his questioning, only that his entry was refused by decision of the Foreign Ministry,” the regulation states.

In February Haaretz reported that the number of people refused entry to Israel has jumped almost ninefold over the past five years. In 2016 Israel refused entry to 16,534 persons, compared to only 1,870 in 2011. The primary reason for the increase has been the sharp and ongoing rise in the number of Ukrainians, Georgians and Egyptians being refused entry. In 2016 citizens of those three countries made up 68 percent of the refusals. Israel has also refused entry to thousands of people from Western countries in recent years, including the United States, Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy.