Israel announced on Monday it would deny entry to seven members of a delegation of European officials using the recently approved legislation that bars visits by anti-Israel boycott activists.
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The 20-member delegation, which was set to arrive in Israel next week, was to include European Parliament members and French mayors. The Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority said seven of the 20 delegation members will be barred from entering Israel, adding it obtained information that they had called for a boycott of Israel.
According to Interior Minister Arye Dery and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the purpose of the visit was to meet with the jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at Hadarim Prison, "as part of their support for Barghouti and Palestinian prisoners."
Barghouti was convicted in 2004 of a series of terror-related murders during the second Palestinian intifada and is currently serving five life sentences.
Erdan said that these are "senior politicians who consistently support the boycott against Israel and promote it." He added that "we will not permit entry to those who actively call to harm the State of Israel, especially in light of their request to meet and offer support to the archterrorist Marwan Barghouti."
An official document of the Strategic Affairs Ministry obtained by Haaretz proposes preventing members of a European delegation permitted to enter Israel from visiting Barghouti. “The issue of prisoner visits is not the responsibility of the Strategic Affair Ministry,” the document stated. “Still, the issue of Palestinian prisoners and efforts to delegitimize Israel are intertwined. The ministry’s position is to not allow any delegation member to visit Marwan Barghouti, as a visit is liable to give him a tailwind.” The document was written by a senior ministry official.
The official noted that the information about the delegation was received from the Foreign Ministry, in the wake of a letter that one of the leaders of the delegation sent to the Israeli embassy in France. The mayor of Gennevilliers, Patrice Leclerc, informed the embassy that the delegation consists of 20 members - French parliamentarians, EU parliamentarians and French mayors belonging to the “Barghouti network.”
The document says that these “mayors are part of the far left in France, who have championed a campaign of support for Barghouti and Palestinian prisoners.” It stressed, “The delegation’s declared main goal is visiting Barghouti.” He noted that the initiative arose over a year ago on a similar trip that "Barghouti network" mayors had taken, but that they didn’t meet with him in the end.
It was also mentioned that the Foreign Ministry had understood that the delegation would try to visit another Palestinian prisoner, Salah Hamouri, as well. Hamouri “has made himself in France a symbol of the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle.” According to the document, “The Strategic Affairs Ministry’s position is to not allow this visit either, which is liable ‘to celebrate’ an extremist delegitimizing activist. Salah Hamouri, a Palestinian Frenchman who works as an investigator for the Addameer, was arrested by IDF forces in late August.” Addameer is the Ramallah-based Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
The Strategic Affair Ministry recommended barring the entry into Israel of seven members of the French delegation: MEPs Pascal Durand and Patrick Le Hyaric; French parliamentarian Clementine Autain; mayors Azzedine Taibi, Eric Roulot and Leclerc; and Pierre Laurent, the head of the French Communist Party. The document said that the Foreign Ministry did not object to the entry of the seven members in question.
The document said that the Israeli embassy in Paris "is prepared to deal with the negative media fallout liable to be caused by the prevention of their entry," calling the members of the delegations "provocateurs." The document suggests informing the seven before they leave France that Israel intended to not allow their entry.
The document details its specific objections to each of the seven. It says of Leclerc, who informed the Israeli embassy of the delegation’s existence, that he was a member of a previous delegation supporting Barghouti, that he had participated in activities supporting the boycott of Israel, and that he had made Salah Hamouri an honorary citizen. MEP Pascal Durand, shared in March on Facebook news about a report of French organizations titled “The French banks’ dangerous ties with Israeli colonization.” It was also noted that he was the first signatories in January 2016 of a petition to the French president that contained explicit messages about boycotting Israel. He also signed a letter in 2015 calling on the EU to limit its commercial and economic ties in Israel and equivocated the situation in Israel with apartheid at a conference on water that year, thereby justifying the boycott of Israeli products. He also signed on to a public call for Salah Hamouri’s release.
Other members of the delegation signed these petitions, documents and letters, the official says. According to the ministry letter, Azzedine Taibi, the mayor of Stains, participated in an event “that included a significant component of promoting boycotts of Israel.” The document stated, “He was photographed at this event with a ‘Boycott Israel’ sign in the background.” Likewise, he appeared in a video supporting the boycott of Israeli products that was uploaded to YouTube in 2013. Regarding Eric Roulot, mayor of Limay, the document stated that he participated in the previous delegation supporting Barghouti, and that he said at a demonstration on behalf of Palestine that “the boycott is freedom” in April, recalling that “the boycott helped get rid of apartheid in South Africa.” He also published on Facebook petitions calling for support of the boycott of settlement products.
French parliamentarian Clementine Autain also expressed support for boycotting Israel, according to the document. She signed onto an article in Le Monde in 2010 whose headline was “Boycotting Israel is fighting for a just peace.” The document said of Communist Party leader Pierre Laurent that he called on the UN secretary general to suspend a commercial agreement between the EU and Israel and also expressed support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists who were put on trial in France.
The Foreign Ministry initially said that the move was not coordinated with it, stressing the implication the move could have on foreign relations and noting the fact that members of the delegations were lawmakers and officials who may hold diplomatic passports. An hour later, however, the ministry updated its response and said that the move was in fact coordinated with the European division at the Foreign Ministry and Israeli Embassy in Paris.
Over the past year, at the instruction of Dery and Erdan, Israel has blocked the entry of a few people known to support the BDS movement.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued a statement protesting the decision to bar members of the delegation from entering the country. They called the Israeli law allowing authorities to bar entry by boycott advocates a violation of basic democratic principles by making political views a consideration in allowing foreign citizens to visit Israel and the territories. "Anyone seeking to enter Israel certainly shouldn't have to toe the line with the current Israeli government position on the subject of the occupation," ACRI said.
For her part, ACRI's executive director, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, said: "The interior minister is not authorized to serve as a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country's citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are appropriate to be heard. Freedom of expression is not just the right to express oneself, but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage and infuriate the majority in Israel."
This article was amended on November 15, 2017, to include details of Marwan Barghouti's 2004 conviction on terrorism charges.