More than 100 lawyers and human rights advocates from around the world signed an open letter Tuesday addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling on the Israeli government to "cease the practice of excluding human rights defenders and advocates based on their criticisms of the government."
The letter specifically addresses the "14-hour detention and denial of entry into Israel" of two leading U.S. human rights activists, Katherine Franke and Vincent Warren, back in May.
Franke added her name to the letter, which also includes signatories such as former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, executive director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang and executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace Rebecca Vilomerson.
"We are dismayed by Israel’s apparent policy of denying entry to human rights defenders, such as Mr. Warren, who are critical of your government," the letter states.
In their letter, the human rights advocates and lawyers said that "this alarming behavior by the Israeli government resembles that of repressive regimes around the world, and is inconsistent with the democratic values that Israel claims to uphold."
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The letter refers to other incidents in which "other prominent human rights advocates have also been denied entry or had their visa revoked." The lawyers highlighted the case of Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir. In May, Shakir was served deportation papers despite having a work permit; he was accused of anti-Israel activities and involvement in the BDS movement, which he rejects. Shakir is currently challenging the decision in Israeli court.
The signatories said Israel follows a "pattern of political repression" and added that "Mr. Warren’s denial of entry follows the Israeli government’s pattern of excluding visitors, including United Nations human rights experts, based on their political viewpoints, perceived ‘bias,’ or merely because their presence assumes some form of criticism of Israel."
In May, Israeli security officials accused Franke, a Columbia University law professor, of lying about her affiliation with a Jewish group that advocates for BDS. Warren and Franke were both barred from entering the country. Both have denied all allegations against them. Franke denied she was in any way a leader or currently involved in one of the 20 groups on an Israeli BDS blacklist.
Neither a spokesman for the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which handles BDS issues, nor the Interior Ministry had an explanation for why Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive nonprofit legal advocacy organization based in New York City, was also barred. Warren previously was a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, litigating civil rights cases.
The incidents mentioned in the letter preceded a recent wave of detentions of other prominent critics of Israel. On Tuesday, American author and former CNN host Reza Aslan tweeted that he was detained two weeks prior while crossing into Israel from Jordan and separated from his family. "We can make it so you don’t see your kids for a long time,” Aslan reported that he was told.
Jewish-American journalist Peter Beinart reported Monday that he had been detained and questioned by the Shin Bet security service over his political views and activities. Netanyahu responded by saying it was an "error in judgement."
Last week, activists Simone Zimmerman and Abby Kirschbaum were held by the Shin Bet at the Israeli-Egyptian border where they were questioned about their participation in protests in the West Bank and about their opinions about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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