'Political Persecution': Lawmaker Blasts Airport Questioning of New Israel Fund VP

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg asks Interior Minister Arye Dery if there is a 'special procedure' concerning members of civil society groups.

Jennifer Gorovitz, the New Israel Fund's vice president for operations and administration.
Screenshot / Youtube

>> UPDATE: Israel's Immigration Authority apologizes over detention of New Israel Fund VP >>

An opposition lawmaker urged Interior Minister Arye Dery on Thursday to look into the questioning of the New Israel Fund's vice president by immigration officials upon arriving in Israel.

Jennifer Gorovitz, who came to Israel to participate in a NIF board meeting, was delayed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday for about 90 minutes and was questioned three different times. 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 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."

"I would like to know why Gorovitz was detained, and if there is a special procedure relating to members of human rights and civil society organizations," Zandberg's letter said.

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

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."

"Questioning at Ben-Gurion Airport by the Immigration Authority is a step before preventing entry to Israel," said NIF's lawyer Gabi Lasky. "This situation is extremely rare for a Jewish person, who can live in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return. It's very strange to detain such a person for questioning to find out if he or she can enter or not for a civil society conference. It's wacky. When I contacted the Immigration Authority they knew immediately who I was talking about and a few minutes later they let her go."

NIF President Talia Sasson added that "detaining a senior NIF official and former head of the San Francisco Federation at the entrance to Israel is a serious act aimed at intimidating a social activist because of her activities for Israel and Israeli society. The Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu, has been persecuting Israeli human rights activists for some time now. Now this policy is being directed at diaspora Jews as well. This exhibitionary arrest won't deter the NIF, its staff and the organizations it supports from acting for peace, ending the occupation and social justice in Israel."

The spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority, Sabine Hadad, said in response, “The passenger, who raised the border inspectors’ suspicion, as occasionally happens, was taken for brief questioning and released. Altogether she was detained for about an hour. Beyond that, it’s not clear where the inaccurate facts were taken from, in view of the fact that the issue of BDS wasn’t mentioned and wasn’t the reason for the questioning.”