Israel’s new law barring supporters of boycott from entering the country, has roiled members of the American Jewish left, many of whom fear the ban will leave critics of the Israeli government’s policies unable to enter the Jewish state.
For some, the concern is real and immediate, as is the uncertainty regarding the restrictions posed by the new law.
American for Peace Now, a pro-Israel group which is part of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, is among those to be likely targeted by Israel’s travel ban. The group, which defines itself as Zionist, supports boycotting of products from West Bank Jewish settlements. Each summer, APN sends a group of some 20 supporters, staffers and board members to Israel for an educational mission which includes tours and meetings with political and civic leaders in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority. This year, it is unclear whether the group, scheduled to leave in June, will even be allowed to enter.
“I know many of them. I know our members of the board. They love Israel and they love to visit Israel,” said APN spokesman Ori Nir. “Many of them in recent days have told us how heartbroken they are to see Israel deem them persona non grata.”
The group still plans to hold its annual Israel Study tour but the concerned phone calls it has been receiving from potential participants prompted APN to reach out to Israel’s foreign ministry and to the Israeli embassy in Washington seeking clarification of their status.
None could tell them whether or not members of the delegation will be allowed into Israel or if they will be turned around by border police when they reach Ben Gurion Airport’s passport control.
Another Jewish Zionist group supporting settlement boycott is in the same position. Partners for Progressive Israel just concluded its annual trip to Israel in January, before the new law took effect. The group included more than 20 activists, supporters, and two Massachusetts state legislators.
Now, PPI is not sure what will become of their next trip to Israel.
“We really have no idea,” said Maya Haber, PPI’s director of programming and strategy. She noted that previous laws passed by Israel’s Knesset since 2009 in attempt to curb activity of left-wing organizations have not always been fully implemented, so it is not clear how the new ban will impact American groups wishing to enter Israel.
The law leaves some questions unanswered, including whether it bars participants of trips sponsored by boycotting groups even if they are not active members of the organization, and whether the law restricts entry of supporters of boycotting groups when they travel to Israel for private visits.
Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that supports the full array of boycott, sanctions and divestment measures against Israel, both within Israel proper and in the West Bank, has also raised concerns regarding upcoming travel of staff members and supporters to Israel.
“We are not discouraging people from trying to go,” said JVP’s media program manager Naomi Dann, stressing the group’s unapologetic support for BDS. ”But we are also telling people to be prepared to be detained and sent back and to take appropriate precautions.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.