Visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Protests to Netanyahu Over Aid Worker’s Expulsion From Israel

Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide also vows to act against Israeli decision to bar senior activists from pro-BDS organizations from entering country

Netanyahu and Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide, January 7, 2018.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

Norway’s foreign minister protested to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday about Israel’s refusal to allow a Norwegian aid worker to return from a trip abroad to Israel, Norway's ambassador to Israel confirmed to Haaretz following media reports. The incident was first reported by Haaretz.

In Israel on her first official visit, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide told the newspaper VG that a protest had been lodged with the Israeli authorities and with Netanyahu himself.

She added that Norway would act against the BDS blacklist that will bar senior activists in boycott, divestment and sanctions groups from entering Israel. The Strategic Affairs Ministry published its list of 20 pro-BDS organizations on Sunday.

“We are familiar with the case where a Norwegian citizen was denied entry to Ben Gurion [International Airport] on Saturday. Our embassy discussed the matter with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but the person was sent out of Israel yesterday,” Søreide told VG.

The woman’s employer, Norwegian Church Aid, which operates around the world, confirmed that the head of their branch in East Jerusalem and the West Bank had been barred from returning to Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning, even though she has lived here for several years. NCA categorically denied Interior Ministry allegations that, working on their behalf, the woman in question had employed false pretenses to obtain visas for aid workers in violence of visa terms. The organization added that it would be asking Israel for explanations.

The aid worker in question is not accused of supporting a boycott against Israel, or other charges relating to political activity.

“She was here on a work visa but her reentry was refused because she took advantage of her position to issue visas for those who are not entitled to them, in violation of procedures,” said Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

Søreide said: “It is very unfortunate that Norwegians who want to follow up various programs and aid projects have been or may risk being denied entry to Israel. I note with surprise that Israeli authorities have published a list of organizations that will not be allowed to enter Israel on the basis that Israel claims they support BDS. A Norwegian organization is among these. We will continue, along with other affected countries, to raise our criticism of this practice with the Israeli authorities. We will also continue to address individual cases,” she added.

She said the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has recently noticed that representatives of civil society from several countries, including from the United States, were denied entry to Israel. “Norway is critical of this and has expressed it to the Israeli authorities. Sunday, I discussed this with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I repeated it Monday at the meeting with the Minister for Regional Cooperation,” referring to Tzachi Hanegbi.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who had been present at Søreide’s meeting with Netanyahu, said afterward that the meeting had been devoted to a political review, stressing the Iranian threat and the importance Israel ascribes to amending the nuclear agreement with Iran. The Palestinian issue in the age of Trump also came up following the U.S. president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month, Hotovely added.

After that, Søreide met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who thanked her for Norway’s work in fighting anti-Semitism and for the Norwegian government’s position against boycotts of Israel and the BDS movement.

“I believe the BDS movement exacerbates hate, it doesn’t fight it,” Rivlin said. “It symbolizes everything that stops us from talking, sharing, making progress.”

BDS is against all Israeli collaborations, Rivlin charged, and urged the Norwegians to act against it as robustly as Israel does – because it “prevents us from moving forward.”

Søreide thanked Rivlin for the reception and said it had been very important to receive direct impressions about the peace process and events in the region. She said she believes the Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate directly. “Direct dialogue is what will assure the security of the two peoples,” she said.

On Monday, Søreide was scheduled to meet with senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah and later this week will be leaving for a visit to the United States.