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EXPLAINED: Why Did Israel Impose An Anti-BDS Travel Ban?

Israeli lawmakers took a cue from the White House Monday night and passed a travel ban. This one will target advocates of boycotts against Israel, Israeli settlements or Israeli institutions.

Although pro-Palestinian activists have faced scrutiny and sometimes denial of entry into Israel for years, this law will codify what has until now been an ad-hoc protocol. Here are details.

What does the law say? “No entry or residency permit of any kind will be given to a person who is not a citizen of Israel or a permanent resident, if the person, the organization or body that he is active on behalf of, has called for a boycott of Israel in any public media or who committed to participate in such a boycott.”

Why was it passed? The sponsors of the bill argued that calls to boycott Israel “are a new front of war against Israel.” Sponsor Roy Folkman of the Kulanu party said, “we can defend the state of Israel’s name and dignity and it’s not an embarrassment.”

Who will be affected? In theory, the law could target a huge swath of travelers – from outspoken activists who join West Bank protests, to foreign nationals including several European politicians like the British Jeremy Corbyn who have called for boycotting economic, academic and cultural institutions in Israel or the West Bank, said Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights attorney.

A spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs told the Forward the law was not aimed at European politicians or casual tourists, but rather “only extremists acting against Israel and the Israeli economy,” who come “to collect information on the state of Israel, to make serious damage, not just talk.” Attorney Sawsan Zaher with the Adalah Arab rights group said the law could apply to about 10,000 Palestinians living as temporary residents in Israel with spouses or relatives who are Israeli citizens.

How might this law be enforced? Attorney Sfard said the law’s short, vague terms echo President Trump’s first travel ban that provided scant details on execution.

On one end of the spectrum, Sfard said the state could create a blacklist of anyone who signed a petition against Israel and link that list to passport numbers – an onerous task. On the other end, he said the law could target only prominent activists and their supporters.

Border officials in Israel can already check the email, social media or possessions of travelers, but the law did not specify what kind of comments would be grounds for denial of entry.

Could this law affect Jewish travelers? Under the vague terms of the law, Jewish travelers could be included in the travel ban.

Who is challenging this law, and what are their chances? Attorney Zaher at Adalah said her organization is searching for a test case to use in a suit at the Supreme Court.

Sfard said the new law was “unconstitutional” and violated freedom of thought – but he said it built on a 2011 law that banned public calls for boycotting Israel or the West Bank settlements. Israeli judges upheld that law against challenges.

“The Israeli court today is much more agreeable to the kind of things that in the past were unthinkable,” Sfard said.

Correction, March 8 at 10:25 a.m.: The story was corrected to say that the new entry restrictions could affect 10,000 Palestinians living as temporary residents in Israel, not 10,000 foreigners married to Palestinians as was previously stated.

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