New legislation passed in the Knesset this week would deny entry into Israel to any foreign nationals who openly call for boycotting the country, even if the boycott is restricted to West Bank settlements.
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Amendment No. 27 to the Entry Into Israel Law (No. 5712-1952) stipulates that the entry ban will apply to any non-citizen “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.” It applies not only to boycotts of Israel, but also to boycotts of any Israeli institutions or “any area under its control” – a clear reference to the settlements.
Does this mean that anyone who ever signed a petition condemning the Israeli occupation could be taken into custody upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport? Does it mean that anyone who ever wrote a Facebook post announcing his or her decision to refrain from buying wine produced in the settlements could be sent back home on the next outbound flight? Will foreign nationals arriving at the airport be subject to more scrutiny? And who needs to be concerned?
We asked some legal experts to predict what changes can be expected on the ground, in wake of the new legislation, and to provide some tips for travelers who are worried they might be targeted now. Here’s what they had to say:
What will change in practice now that this new amendment has taken effect?
Under the Entry Into Israel Law, which was enacted in 1952, the Minister of Interior was already authorized to ban individuals from entering the country at his discretion, even if they have already obtained visas. As Oded Feller, an expert on immigration issues at the Association of Civil Rights in Israel notes: “Even before this amendment was added to the law, the Ministry of Interior felt free to detain at Israel’s borders those suspected of opposing Israeli policy, and in certain cases, even to deport them.” That has included not only supporters of an all-out boycott against Israel but even individuals simply critical of the Israeli government.
Such was the case last month when Jennifer Gorovitz, a senior executive at the New Israel Fund, was detained at the airport for 90 minutes and interrogated about her organization’s activities and its funding of various Israeli nonprofits. But as Feller points out, Gorovitz was not the first Jewish visitor to be pulled aside for questioning at the airport. “Other prominent examples that come to mind from previous years,” he said, “are Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein,” both well-known critics of Israel. For this reason, Yadin Elam, another Israeli attorney who specializes in human rights and immigration, believes the new amendment is more declarative than anything else. “Nothing really has changed in practice,” he says. “Before this, the Minister of Interior also had the power to bar entry of individuals who called for a boycott of Israel. The difference now is that the ban is automatic, and the Minister of Interior can, at his discretion, overturn it.” So is there reason to believe more people will be stopped at the airport now? “Only time will tell,” says Feller, “but probably.”
Is supporting a boycott enough grounds for being denied entry into Israel?
The law does not ban those who support a boycott. Rather, it bans individuals, as well as representatives of organizations, that have issued a public call for a boycott that has “a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott.” Most legal experts say that it will ultimately be left to the courts to define what exactly that entails. Knesset Member Roy Folkman (Kulanu), one of the sponsors of the legislation, has said the ban would not apply to someone who has signed a petition in favor of a boycott. Feller is not convinced. “Once the amendment has been enacted, it will be up to the courts and the authorities to interpret it,” he says. “Folkman is not its interpreter and has no influence on how it will be implemented.”
How will Israeli Border Police know if someone has ever issued a call for a boycott?
Herein lies the big problem with this new amendment to the law, as Elam notes. “It is virtually impossible to implement,” he says. “Sure they have black lists, and they always have. But they also have gray lists. Are they going to start Googling every person on those lists who enters the country? Are they going to force every foreigner to pledge loyalty to the state of Israel when they enter the country or sign a form that they have never called for a boycott?”
Say you get stopped at the airport now, are Border Police allowed to search your bags?
Yes, and this has been true ever since the Entry Into Israel Law was enacted in 1952. The law doesn’t specify, however, what types of searches are allowed.
Can they ask to search your digital devices?
This is trickier. As Feller notes, cellphones and tablets did not exist 55 years ago when the law was passed. “It could be argued that since the law does not give the authorities the explicit right to pry in this way, that they don’t possess such a right,” he says. “But as we know, when it comes to Israeli immigration authorities, many things are done without specific authorization.” And what should someone do if they are asked to unlock their phones or reveal their passwords to social media? Feller says they have the right to refuse but they should be mindful that they might then be detained or put on the next flight out of the country. Elam calls it a “Catch-22 situation.” “If you hand over your phone, there’s the risk they will see things you don’t want them to see, but if you don’t hand it over, there’s the risk that they’ll think you’re hiding something.”
What precautions should be taken to avoid being detained or sent back home?
For those concerned that things they may have said, signed or written in the past might be used against them now, Elam shares the following advice, which he gives all foreign nationals fearful that they might not be welcomed into Israel: Book a flight on a weekday, rather than a weekend, and on a regular airline, rather than a charter flight. “The reason I say a weekday is that you don’t want to be stuck in a detention facility over the weekend here,” he explains, “and the reason I say a regular airline is that usually they fly back and forth one the same day, while with charter flights, it could take a week until there’s a flight back, and they you’ll be stuck in detention all that time.”
What about those Jews who love Israel but hate the occupation – any special precautions they should take before booking their tickets to Israel now?
Elam says they might want to consider getting a letter from the Israeli consulate near their hometown or a local Jewish leader vouching that they are loyal members of the Jewish community. “Still,” he cautions, “there is really no way to guarantee that they won’t face any problems once they get here.