Opinion |

The Jewish State's Just Barred a Rabbi From Entering. So Where's the Jewish Protest?

Israel’s now set a precedent for barring Jews with different political beliefs. Not protesting? Wait till you see who's deemed ‘undesirable’ next

Ilana Sumka
Ilana Sumka
As a post-Holocaust US Jew, I thought Israel would keep me safe. Now I wonder if they'd even let me in
As a post-Holocaust US Jew, I thought Israel would keep me safe. Now I wonder if they'd even let me inCredit: Ofer Vaknin, wikimedia
Ilana Sumka
Ilana Sumka

Imagine the outrage in the Jewish world should the headline read: "European Country Bars Rabbi From Entering Based on Political Beliefs."

From the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee, cries of anti-Semitism and accusations of denial freedom of speech would abound. Petitions would circulate and meetings with international envoys and ambassadors would ensue, and rightly so.

But when the country banning the rabbi is Israel - not a peep.

Four days ago, Rabbi Alissa Wise and four others from her group weren’t allowed to board a plane in D.C.’s Dulles Airport, because a Lufthansa representative had been given orders by Israeli immigration officials not to allow them to board.

I’ve known Rabbi Alissa Wise for more than a decade. Ten years ago we participated in the same cohort of Selah, a Jewish social justice training. At the time, she was a rabbinical student and I was the Jerusalem director of Encounter. Both of us had spent significant time in the West Bank where we witnessed daily discrimination by the Israeli government against Palestinians, a government claiming to act in our name as Jews.

Not protesting when Israel bans entry to pro-BDS leaders? Next time, it could be you: Pro-BDS protest at New York state Capitol. June 15, 2016Credit: Mike Groll, AP

As a result, we have both pursued paths, in our own ways, for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, precisely because we are both deeply committed to the Jewish people. She is a leader in Jewish Voice for Peace, and I am the founder and director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.

While she and I don’t agree on every tactic, we share a commitment to nonviolence, to human rights and to democracy. Which is more than we can say for the State of Israel right now.

Rabbi Wise and the four others who were banned were shown nothing in writing; there was no due process and no recourse.

Israel’s recent policy to ban activists who pursue peace and justice through the nonviolent movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a stark example of the unraveling of Israel’s democracy. Essentially the Israeli government is saying: "If you don’t agree with us, you can’t come here. Even if you’re Jewish."

Israel’s message: "If you don’t agree with us, you can’t come here. Even if you’re Jewish. Even if you’re a rabbi.” BDS activists in Los Angeles, August 22, 2016. Credit: AFP / Robyn Beck

Imagine Israel banning Reform Jews, or Democratic Jews, for their religious or political beliefs. That may sound impossible, but so does the phrase 'Israel bans rabbi from entering’ - and it just happened.

How long will it take before U.S. activists with Women of the Wall, or perhaps a rabbi like Reform movement leader Rick Jacobs who has been outspoken on the need for egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, are also banned from coming to Israel, since they, too, disagree with some of Israel’s policies?

I go to Israel a few times a year, sometimes for work and sometimes to visit family friends. I don’t agree with every policy of the Israeli government, just like I don’t agree with every policy of the U.S. government. I've supported Israel all my life, even if I haven't supported every single Israeli policy.

As a young girl growing up in post-Holocaust America, I thought Israel would be the place that would keep me safe. Now I wonder if they'd even let me in.

Ilana Sumka is the director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.

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