Israel's Shin Bet: We Recommended Questioning of U.S. Activists, but Not on Political Views

U.S. activists Simone Zimmerman and Abigail Kirschbaum were detained at Israel's border with Egypt and claimed they were asked their thoughts on Netanyahu, but the Shin Bet denies these claims

Simone Zimmerman and Abigal Kirschbaum in Jaffa on August 6, 2018.
Meged Gozani

Israel's Shin Bet security service responded Monday reports on the detention of two American left-wing activists at the Israel-Egypt border.

The Shin Bet confirmed it advised to question the two - Simone Zimmerman and Abigail Kirschbaum – but stressed that it was border control officials who asked the questions. 

While U.S. Jewish activist Simone Zimmerman claims she was asked about her opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Shin Bet said that it did not seek to ask Zimmerman and Kirschbaum about their opinions of "any political elements."  . 

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"At no point were the two passengers questioned by the Shin Bet at the Taba crossing," Shin Bet said. "When they arrived at the border crossing the two were questioned by a border control official.

"This questioning raised information that was referred from the border control official to the Shin Bet. Therefore, the official was asked by the Shin Bet to ask the passengers several questions, especially regarding their participation in a violent protest against security forces in Judea and Samaria," the Shin Bet asserted.

"Note that the Shin Bet did not ask the travelers for their opinion on any political elements and did not try to elucidate anything about their political positions," the Shin Bet statement continued.

Once it received the answers to its questions, the Shin Bet recommended that the two be allowed into Israel, it stated, and added that it operates in strict compliance with its function under law and that any attempt to ascribe inappropriate motivations to it is "a baseless smear."

Zimmerman is a founding member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for the Israeli occupation.

While still detained at the Taba border crossing, Zimmerman wrote on Twitter that she and fellow activist Abby Kirschbaum were being questioned only about their political views and activities related to Palestinians. According to Zimmerman, among the first things she was asked were: "Why did you come here to work with Palestinians? Why not with Jews?"

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Kirschbaum was asked about which protests against Israeli policy she had attended in the Palestinian territories and with which organizations, Zimmerman said. She was also asked if she wished to travel to Gaza and whether she had been at violent demonstrations – and what she thought of Netanyahu.  

In 2017, Zimmerman, who resides in Israel and has a work visa,  published a video criticizing an Israeli law barring entry to foreigners who support boycotting Israel or its West Bank settlements.