Israel Apologizes for Detention, Questioning of New Israel Fund VP

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Jennifer Gorovitz, the New Israel Fund's vice president for operations and administration
Jennifer Gorovitz, the New Israel Fund's vice president for operations and administrationCredit: Flicker

The head of Israel's Immigration Authority on Thursday apologized for any possible anguish caused to the New Israel Fund executive who was detained for questioning at Ben-Gurion International Airport upon arrival in the country.

Jennifer Gorovitz, NIF's vice president, had come to Israel to participate in a NIF board meeting. Officials at the airport questioned her three different times during her 90-minute detainment there. She said she was asked about the NIF's activities and about the funding it supplies to different nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

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This is the first time a senior official of the fund has been delayed at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Population and Immigration Authority commented that its interim director general, Amnon Shmueli, had spoken with the president of the New Israel Fund, Talia Sasson, to explain to her what had happened and the procedures in place. "Shmueli made it clear that the questioning of Gorovitz was routine and that there was no intent to insult her. The director general apologized if she was caused any anguish," the authority stated.

Earlier on Thursday, An opposition lawmaker urged Interior Minister Arye Dery to look into the questioning of Gorovitz

"This is political persecution, harassment and an attempt to silence those who fight for Israeli society," MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) wrote in a letter to Dery. Israel's gates, she said, cannot be a place for "harassment and political labeling."

Gorovitz, 50, joined the NIF in 2015 after serving for a decade in various positions in San Francisco’s Jewish community, the most senior of which was director of the San Francisco Jewish Federation. Gorovitz serves as the NIF’s vice president for operations and administration, and is responsible for budget issues, among other areas.

Gorovitz said that when her turn arrived at the airport's passport control, she told the officer that she was visiting Israel on business. When asked about her employer, she replied that she worked for Shatil, the NIF division that advises nonprofit organizations, and told the border control officer that it advises civil society groups in Israel.

That’s when the routine questioning got complicated. According to Gorovitz, the officer asked her if she works with Palestinian NGOs, and she answered that her organization works with all Israeli citizens. He asked her if she planned to do any work in the territories, and she said no, but he didn’t seem to believe her. 

Gorovitz said that she asked the border control official if there was any problem, noting that she was Jewish and a Zionist, but that the officer only made a sarcastic remark about her Zionism. He made her wait 10 minutes and then asked her to wait in a nearby room, where she underwent further questioning.

While she was questioned, Gorovitz saw that her interviewer was holding a document with a considerable amount of information about her. One of the words highlighted in the document was BDS.

"She asked me what the New Israel Fund does and I told her we finance organizations in civil society in Israel and that we object to BDS. She asked me who we finance, and then asked me to wait outside," she said.

After a few more minutes of waiting, Gorovitz was sent to a third round of questioning. This time she was questioned by two men in civilian clothing. In this case, too, the pair did not identify themselves or say to which state body they belong to. "They asked the same questions," she said. "After a few more minutes they released me and let me enter Israel."

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