Opinion

Dumber and More Counterproductive: Israel's Travel Ban Is Worse Than Trump's

Trump’s effort, while it may not be wise, is at least rooted in a genuine potential problem: terrorism. But there’s no argument to be made for Israel’s ban on boycott supporters.

Protesters march in Seattle against Trump's restrictions on immigration, on February 17, 2017.
DAVID RYDER/REUTERS

On the same day that the Trump administration announced its revised travel ban affecting those attempting to enter the United States from six Muslim-majority countries, the Knesset approved its very own version. 

The bill that got final approval in Israel on Monday evening is far more limited in its scope than Trump’s executive order. It forbids entry to foreigners who call for boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.

Think what you will of the new U.S. restrictions, but from my perspective as an American supporter of Israel who has often written in defense of its current government and in adamant opposition to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, what the Knesset has just done is far dumber and more counterproductive than Trump’s scheme.

Trump’s liberal critics see his plan as an expression of religious bias against Muslims, though it is not even close to a blanket ban. They can also argue that the six countries are not the only sources of terrorism and that, although some immigrants or refugees from these places have committed security offenses, they may be less of a problem than homegrown terrorists or those who hail from countries like Saudi Arabia whose governments are U.S. allies.

But Trump’s effort is at least rooted in a genuine potential problem, in the form of terrorism from countries that actually are Islamist incubators for hate. All nations have a right to determine who may cross their borders.

Deciding to slow down immigration from such places is well within Trump’s authority. It may not be wise but many Americans who aren’t necessarily part of his fan base have little problem with it.

But there is no argument to be made for Israel’s ban.

I sympathize with the animus of its drafters for those who support boycotts of Israel. Despite the cover given it by Jewish fellow travelers, the BDS movement is fundamentally an expression of anti-Semitism.

Since those who would single out the one Jewish state on this planet for opprobrium and isolation do not apply the same standard to other nations —including unabashed tyrannies — what the BDS movement practices is a form of bias against Jews.

Moreover, wherever those who advocate BDS raise their standards, anti-Semitic incitement almost always follows. Far from being a tool to advance the cause of peace, it ultimately it seeks to further the efforts of those whose purpose is Israel’s destruction, not changing its policies.

Though there is a clear distinction between BDS and those who wish to only sanction settlements, that cause helps legitimize other more dangerous boycotts and also fails to take into account the fact that Israel’s foes make no distinction between that settlement built on the outskirts of Jaffa a century ago — Tel Aviv — and the most remote West Bank hilltop encampment.

But even in a country where there is no First Amendment protection of free speech, none of that justifies keeping people out of Israel simply for expressing an opinion, however odious it might be.

The Knesset bill’s advocates say it is an expression of patriotism and certainly those who oppose BDS are demonstrating a healthy form of national pride.

But preventing the entry of those whose views offend Israeli patriots is not the same thing as advancing the country’s interests.

To the contrary, it does far more harm than good since it allows BDSers to not only play the martyr — giving their cause more publicity than it deserves — but also gives them an opportunity to portray Israel as repressive rather than the pluralistic democracy that it is.

The antidote to the libels against Israel spread by pro-BDS groups is the truth about the country’s democratic values, the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace as well as the airing of the entirely reasonable concerns Israelis have about allowing another terrorist state on its borders such as the one that came about in Gaza after Ariel Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal.

Keeping open Israel-haters from Europe or more equivocal yet equally obnoxious representatives of Jewish groups that provide cover for BDS is a mere expression of resentment that, though understandable, hands them an undeserved victory at Israel’s expense.

Far from helping the efforts of those in the Diaspora working to refute and isolate pro-BDS groups, the new law is a pointless blunder that impedes their efforts.

Jonathan S. Tobin is a contributor to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin