Opinion

Israel's Public Enemy No. 1

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has apparently decided to bring the war against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to the same level of excellence for which the Israel Police is known

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Israeli Public security Minister Gilad Erdan in Jerusalem, April 10, 2016.
Gali Tibbon/Reuters

When Ahed Tamimi was featured in Vogue, I thought that such an own goal had to be the result of a team effort. If Naftali Bennett, Gilad Erdan, Betzalel Smotrich and Miri Regev weren’t playing wholeheartedly together, perhaps we would have avoided this colossal failure. But the case of Lara Alqasem proves that Israel no longer has to work hard in order to defeat itself.

Alqasem, 22, has been held for more than a week in the lockup at Ben-Gurion International Airport because she once boycotted some hummus. This disgrace has been reported by The Washington Post, Time magazine, Bloomberg News and even the Toronto Star. How did the security at Ben-Gurion Airport go from being a necessary evil to a Monty Python sketch? Kudos go to Gilad Erdan, the minister for public security, strategic affairs and strange procedures, who apparently decided to bring the war against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to the same level of excellence for which the Israel Police is known.

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A young woman who is seeking to study in Israel is in detention on grounds that she is boycotting Israel, even though she has already declared that she does not support BDS. You have to read that sentence a few times to understand what losing one’s bearings looks like. Credit goes to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and to the Association of University Heads, which are supporting Alqasem. But Erdan has said he would allow her in only if she expresses remorse for having supported a boycott. Erdan, who can read minds, will let the public know when the regret expressed by Public Enemy No. 1 is truly sincere.

Hanoch Levin, after his play “The Queen of the Bathtub” was shut down following extensive public protest, produced a letter of apology that was prepared for exactly these circumstances. “I erred,” he wrote. “I utilized the principles of democracy and freedom to undermine public morale, to curse and condemn Israel’s wars and to sow hatred and confusion within the united nation.” If that sounds like a confession from a Soviet show trial, it’s no coincidence.

But Erdan is just the latest participant in the current march of folly. Also to blame is Judge Kobi Vardi, who decided to leave Alqasem in detention “until the claims against her regarding the risk and possible harm to the State of Israel are clarified;” MKs Smotrich, Roy Folkman and Yoav Kish, who sponsored the Boycott Law; all the MKs — save those of Meretz — who prefer to remain silent, as well as journalists who aren’t pushing to get answers about this absurdity.

I support a boycott of settlement products and oppose a boycott of the state, but I suggest we remember that boycotts are not a security risk, economic terror or diplomatic terror. To argue otherwise is not just an insult to one’s common sense, but also to victims of terror and real security risks. In the cabinet they may be convinced that the inflated use of the terms “security risk” and “terror” accords them the halo of generals, but it mainly looks like the hysteria of kids playing make-believe.

Israel has a clear interest in fighting any boycott against it, but it should also consider adapting its measures to suit the cause. The arrest of young women will not eliminate the boycott movement, but rather fuel it, and questioning opponents of the occupation at Ben-Gurion Airport does not further Israel’s reputation. This isn’t new; it is self-evident. But in Israel today even stating the obvious has become radical. There is no clearer indication than this of the nation’s state of mind after a decade under the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu.