Israel Set to Pass Law Banning pro-BDS Foreigners From Entering Country

Bill scheduled to come up for final vote Monday evening; ban would also apply to those calling for boycotts of any Israeli institution.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Pro-Palestinian protesters in Paris, August 2015.
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Paris, August 2015.Credit: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset is likely to give final approval Monday evening to a bill that would forbid granting entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.

However, the interior minister would be able to make exceptions to this rule if he deems it warranted in a particular case.

Aides to one of the bill’s cosponsors, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), confirmed that the bill is expected to come up for its second and third readings on Monday. It may be postponed, though, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to bring another controversial bill to a vote this evening and debate on that bill – which would legalize many West Bank settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land – is expected to be prolonged.

Two weeks ago, the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee approved the final wording of the boycott bill, whose goal is to fight the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

It says the entry ban will apply to any person “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.”

This definition was copied from a 2011 law that permitted civil lawsuits against BDS activists.

The ban would apply not just to people who call for boycotts against Israel, but also to those who call for boycotts of any Israeli institution or any “area under its control” – i.e., the settlements.

MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), another of the bill’s sponsors, rejected the idea that the ban could apply to anyone who ever signed a petition against, for example, purchasing wine made in the settlements, noting that the definition contains several restrictive requirements. “It doesn’t cover any individual who ever said something,” he said last week. “It’s aimed mainly at organizations that work against Israel.”

He added that he submitted the bill only after the Interior Ministry expressed interest in changing the current situation – “in which visas are granted automatically, except for those visitors whom the interior minister specifically bars” – to a situation in which “entry will automatically be forbidden unless the interior minister decides to allow it.”

The Justice Ministry urged the Interior Committee to make an exception for Palestinians with temporary residency in Israel, like those admitted under the family unification program, who spend several years as temporary residents before receiving permanent residency. Exempting these Palestinians from the ban would make it easier for the law to withstand a court challenge, the ministry argued. But the committee rejected this idea.

“Why should I bring someone into my house who demonizes and undermines the state?” asked panel chairman David Amsalem (Likud). “We’re not afraid of criticism, but we have national pride. Someone who has already received temporary residency from us and is being considered for permanent residency, who comes and harms us, as a guest, why should we let him stay?”

Smotrich concurred, and rejected the idea that the law as its stands would have trouble surviving a court challenge.

“It’s completely proportionate,” he said. “Anyone who isn’t ashamed to accept a favor or privilege from us, but during his trial period spits in our face – he’s the first who should be stripped of his residency permit.”

Left-wing lawmakers voiced criticism of the bill, though.

“This is a terrible law, partly because it’s unnecessary, but also because we, who are against boycotts, are using boycotts against others,” said MK Yael German (Yesh Atid). “This law will only give our enemies flammable material with which to smear us – that we’re constantly trying to gag people.” She advocated simply retaining the status quo.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) agreed. “This is a law to censor opponents of the occupation,” she said.

“We’re all against boycotts of Israel,” she added, but this law also bans people who call for “boycotting areas under Israel’s control. This law seeks to gag people on a political issue, and people must have the right to their political opinions.”

Zandberg proposed three amendments to the bill: one declaring that its goal was to erase awareness of the occupation and sabotage peace talks; one that would require the Interior Committee to approve every decision to deny a visa; and one adopting the Justice Ministry’s proposal to exempt Palestinians with temporary residency in Israel.

The committee rejected all three amendments.

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