The Israeli government has issued a list of 20 activist organizations from around the world whose leaders and active members are to be denied entry. Coming on the heels of last spring’s law announcing an entry ban on boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) supporters, this isn’t particular surprising.
- Israel Publishes BDS Blacklist: These 20 Groups Will Be Denied Entry
- I'm a U.S. Jew on Israel's BDS Blacklist. I Won't Be Silenced
- Corbyn Is Patron of BDS Group Whose Members Will Be Barred From Israel
- Call Out Jewish Voice for Peace for What They Are: Anti-peace Extremists
But it shines a light on the degree of fear gripping Israel’s leaders when it comes to BDS, and casts into question Israel’s commitment to democratic norms. All this suggests that BDS activists may actually be on to something.
Of the list, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) will be the one most familiar to American Jews. Others include Code Pink, a broader anti-war group, and one that has received publicity for initiatives like its "Stolen Beauty" campaign to boycott Ahava skin care products; and U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, headed by foreign-policy expert Yousef Munayyer.
There’s an intriguing irony here. Jewish BDS activists are now barred from visiting. But under Israel’s Law of Return, as Jews, they can still immigrate and even receive financial support from the government for doing so. Though it’s an interesting twist, these activists are unlikely to take up the opportunity, since one of their targets is in fact - the Law of Return.
Palestine solidarity activists often point to what they see as an unfair juxtaposition between an Israeli law granting immigration rights to any Jew worldwide, and the barring, by Israel, of the return of Palestinian refugees who were exiled in the 1948 war. This juxtaposition is what underlies JVP’s "Return the Birthright" campaign, whose subtitle is: "Because Palestinians can’t return to their homes."
Some readers might be secretly - or even outwardly - pleased by the entry-ban law and the issuing of the list. This is the "karma is a *$&#" view, or, more politely, the "what goes around comes around" perspective.
The logic runs this way: Those who boycott Israel can be (and even should be) themselves boycotted, which is to say banned from the country they so oppose.
And then there’s the argument, about JVP specifically, that by cozying up to what these critics call “convicted terrorists,” and issuing a video that straddled the line of decency, or by tipping sacred-cow programs like Birthright, JVP has made its bed, and should lie in it.
There are various problems with these arguments.
First, on the issue of JVP and "convicted terrorists": This refers to Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh, who was honored by JVP at their most recent annual conference. But one could say that JVP’s choice to honour Odeh was in spite of whatever crime Odeh may or may not have committed, not necessarily because of it.
And the reason she may have deserved to be honored, one could argue, was because of her being a survivor of sexual torture, according to her testimony, at the hands of Israeli security services. It follows, therefore, that her very conviction by the Israeli courts should be called into question.
Second, about the widely-criticized Deadly Exchange video, JVP did recast the framing in a way that addressed the criticisms that I, for one, had levied in Haaretz. JVP released an edited version soon after.
And here is the most important point about whether BDS activists deserve to be banned: At all its ports of entry, Israel does not only gate-keep for its own sovereign territory and its own citizens. Palestinian controlled-areas and the millions of Palestinians there who are not Israeli citizens are still subject to the decisions of Israeli authorities about who gets in - and who gets out.
This means that those who want to transform their armchair activism into actual, on-the-ground non-violent study, learning and solidarity work - by actually visiting and seeing, first-hand, the lives of those they are supposedly standing in solidarity with - are being barred from doing so by Israel. Most chillingly, this means that Palestinians under occupation remain that much more isolated.
With this entry-ban law and its strengthening by the publishing of the new list, Israel is effectively turning the screws in the prison of occupation a few notches tighter.
This also means that Israel continues to inch away from its self-declared commitment to being a democracy. And sadly, perhaps, it means that if ever there was a time for BDS, this may be it.
Mira Sucharov is associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Twitter: @sucharov