WASHINGTON – The members of a delegation of three left-wing U.S. organizations who were barred from boarding a flight to Israel because of their support for the BDS movement gave Haaretz their account of events that took place at Dulles International Airport on Monday.
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Their story raises a number of questions about the methods used by the Israeli government to enforce its policy of stopping activists affiliated with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement from entering the country, as well as about that policy's level of efficiency.
On Monday, a group of 22 activists arrived at Dulles Airport, planning to board a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there to continue to Tel Aviv. The activists were all part of one delegation, representing three organizations: Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. All three organizations are known for their support of the BDS movement and boycotts targeting Israel or settlements in the West Bank.
The members of the delegation arrived to the airport after two joint days of orientation in Washington, ahead of their two-week visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. During the trip, the delegation is supposed to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and visit religious sites that are important to all three religions.
As they were checking in at the Lufthansa desk, five members of the delegation were asked to step aside. Three were members of Jewish Voice for Peace, one from American Muslims for Palestine and the other a member of the Presbyterian group. All were told by a Lufthansa representative they would not be able to board the flight because of instructions the company had received from Israeli immigration authorities.
"They told us that unless we could produce a paper from the Israeli consulate saying we're allowed to fly, the company could not let us board the plane," said Alissa Wise, a rabbi and JVP activist who had visited Israel at least nine times previous to Monday's incident.
Wise was the first member of the delegation to check into the flight, and when the company refused to let her proceed, other members worried that perhaps the entire delegation would be turned back.
But that did not happen. Instead, while five members were singled out, all of the remaining 17 were allowed to board the flight and continue to Israel. According to Wise and to another participant in the delegation, those who were allowed to enter Israel are no less vocal in their opposition to Israel's polices or in their support for the BDS movement.
"They pulled aside three Jews, one Muslim and one Christian," Wise told Haaretz. "We have no idea why we specifically were chosen. They refused to show us any documents."
Wise did manage to learn, however, that the company's list of delegation participants who should be turned away actually included seven names, not just five.
One of the names was that of an activist who expressed interest in joining the delegation back in March but then decided not to do so. "She never purchased a ticket and wasn't on the trip manifest, yet for some reason she was in the list the Israeli government sent to Lufthansa," Wise said on Tuesday, adding that this detail was perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire incident.
Another person who was included in Lufthansa's list changed her plans ahead of time and flew out of New York City instead of Washington, encountering no special problems at the airport. "She had to drop her kid at Jewish summer camp," Wise said, referring to that member of the delegation. "So she flew out of a different airport and, unlike us, she made it without any delays."
Another member of JVP who was rejected from boarding the flight told Haaretz that the delegation tried to ask U.S. officials at the airport if they were aware of the orders coming from the Israeli side and were told that U.S. authorities had nothing to do with it.
"They said this was an issue concerning the Israeli government and the airline, and that it had nothing to do with [the] Transportation Security Administration."
Wise added that JVP members had been encouraged by the organization to reach out to their representatives in Congress and ask them to inquire into the incident.
"It's one thing for Israel to decide on such a policy – which I think is wrong and goes against Democratic values – but another thing for companies to enforce it on U.S. soil," she said.