Despite BDS Blacklist, Jewish Agency Won't Block Boycott Supporters From Immigrating to Israel

'We will not prevent people from making aliyah based on political beliefs,' official says, adding that strategic affairs minister 'has no authority over immigration'

File photo: New immigrants arrive at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport.
JACK GUEZ / AFP

Activists in 20 organizations that support the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement are to be barred from visiting Israel, but if they are Jewish, there is nothing to stop them from moving to the country, a senior Jewish Agency official said on Sunday.

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We will not prevent people from making aliyah based on political beliefs, said Yigal Palmor, director of public affairs and communications at the Jewish Agency, the organization which determines whether individuals are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

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On Sunday, the Strategic Affairs Ministry published a list of 20 organizations whose leading activists will be barred from Israel. The only exclusively Jewish organization on the list is Jewish Voice for Peace, but Jews are known to be active in many of the other organizations.

Who's on Israel's BDS blacklist

This list only applies to individuals visiting Israel and has nothing to do with aliyah, said Palmor. Gilad Erdan [Israel's strategic affairs minister] has no authority over immigration.

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The Law of Return stipulates that every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel, unless he or she is a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare or unless the interior minister has become convinced that he or she is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or is likely to endanger public health or the security of the state.

The Interior Ministry, which has the final say on all immigration visa requests to Israel typically, accepts recommendations presented by the Jewish Agency. On the rare occasions that it rules otherwise, it is usually because it suspects the applicants are not Jewish or that they underwent bogus conversions.

When asked whether the Interior Ministry would bar Jewish activists in the boycott movement from immigrating to Israel, spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said: We dont deal with speculations.

An official in the Strategic Affairs Ministry said that the ban would apply only to top officials and leading activists in the 20 organizations – and not to every single member and supporter. Only those who consistently, actively and continuously call for a boycott will be barred, she said. Our intention is not to shut people up.

The law barring activists in the BDS movement was passed in the Knesset last March, but until now, the list of organizations targeted had been kept under wraps. The Strategic Affairs Ministry official said that since the law was passed, 25 individuals have been barred from Israel. They include five BDS activists who were prevented from boarding a flight bound for Israel in July. The passengers taken off the flight were active in Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. They were part of a larger delegation of 22 passengers, all of them members of these three organizations. (Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, unlike the other two organizations, is not on the blacklist).

When the travel ban was initially passed, about 600 Jewish-American students sent letters to Birthright, the biggest sponsor of trips to Israel in the world, asking whether it would change its screening policy as a result. At the time, Birthright inserted a sentence on the FAQ section of its website saying: Birthright does not inquire about the political views of its applicants and welcomes all Jewish young adults from around the globe to visit Israel.

Asked whether the organization had changed its policy now that the full list of organizations falling under the travel ban had been published, a spokeswoman declined to comment.

According to the official at the Strategic Affairs Ministry, a participant in Birthright was once discovered, upon arrival in Israel, to have been active in the BDS movement. That participant was not turned away though.