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American Activist Considers Making Aliyah To Skirt Israel Travel Ban

Jewish activist Ariel Gold, who was refused entry to Israel this week because of her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, says she has not ruled out the possibility of immigrating to the country.

Speaking from her home in Ithaca, New York, Gold told Haaretz that making aliyah “is something I am looking into.” This would appear to be the only way she can circumvent the Israeli policy of barring activists it deems a threat.

Gold said she was “heartbroken” at being refused entry to Israel on Monday. “The land of Israel and Palestine is incredibly meaningful and sacred to me. It’s hard to believe I might not be allowed into a place that is so important to me,” she said.

“I am definitely looking into contesting this decision. I genuinely desire to be in the country – both because I believe in Palestinian rights, and because as a Jew I have a history and connection to the land. It is sacred and holy to me.”

In January, the Strategic Affairs Ministry published a list of 20 organizations whose leading activists will be barred from Israel, including Code Pink, for which Gold currently serves as national co-director.

While she was in Israel last summer, Gold was the focus of press attention after she had been admitted to the country despite her pro-BDS activism in Code Pink. When she left Israel, the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying she would not be readmitted. She then received a letter informing her that her next visit to Israel would have to be coordinated in advance.

Gold said Wednesday that she had made every effort to comply with these conditions. She said she travels to Israel and the West Bank each summer after dropping her children off at Jewish summer camp, and that this year decided to take a month-long, non-degree course at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Gold made a point of traveling to the Israeli Consulate in New York and obtaining her student visa months ago, she said, “as a way of asking permission” and letting the Interior Ministry “know in advance I was coming.”

If Israel had not wanted to admit her, she said, “they had plenty of time to say, ‘We’re not going to give you the visa.’ There was no reason to wait till I arrived.”

Gold said she had not planned any “political activity” while in Israel. “I was planning to take some time to try to understand Israeli culture,” she said.

After her trip was scheduled, she learned that Issa Amro – a Palestinian activist she supports ­– had a court date in late July. “Would I have paid attention to things and gone to Issa’s court date? Sure,” she said. She also said she would have likely been present for Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi’s release if it had taken place while she was in Israel. “But I had no plans for any kind of protest.”

Should Gold attempt to exercise her “right of return” to Israel, there are no obstacles in her path, a senior Jewish Agency official said.

Yigal Palmor, director of public affairs and communications at the Agency, said it had “received no instruction whatsoever to block or reject applications by anyone.”

He said the Agency “continues to review applications and send them with a recommendation to the Interior Ministry, where they are approved or rejected.”

The Law of Return stipulates that every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel, unless he or she “is a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare,” or unless the interior minister has become convinced that he or she “is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or is likely to endanger public health or the security of the state.”

The Interior Ministry, which typically has the final say on all immigration visa requests to Israel, accepts recommendations presented by the Agency. On the rare occasions it rules otherwise, it is usually because it suspects that the applicants are not Jewish or they underwent bogus conversions.

Yadin Elam, a lawyer specializing in administrative law, regularly handles cases challenging denials of immigration under the Law of Return. He said there had yet to be a case of anybody being “denied aliyah for political reasons.”

Elam said that when he heard about Gold’s deportation, “I said to myself that the only alternative she has is to make aliyah – I don’t see how anyone can deny her right. Every Jew has the right. You don’t have to ask for it: You have it, and there are only a few specific reasons the Interior Ministry can deny [it to] her.”

In court, he added, it would be difficult to make the case that Gold is endangering state security or threatening the Jewish people. “I don’t see how a court will uphold a decision to deny a right of return for this reason.”

If challenged, Elam said, the state may attempt to argue that Gold is “only using the law of return as a means to be able to enter the country as a visitor.”

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