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I’m A Zionist. Canary Mission Targeted Me Anyway.

I woke up the other day to discover that I promote hatred of Israel and of Jews. So says the Canary Mission, a secretive website funded in part (as The Forward has reported) by a foundation affiliated with the San Francisco Jewish Federation. I am said to belong to a BDS organization (which one, it does not say) and to have close associations with a long list of individuals with similar anti-Israel views (I only recognize a handful of these names).

My specific sins appear to have been the following: (1) to have signed a petition against criminal charges for a group of students at UC Irvine who disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren (for the record: I don’t endorse such disruptions but believe that they should not be criminalized unless there is violence); (2) to question the use of Title VI to address anti-Israel speech on university campuses (I don’t believe that Title IX should be used to trump the First Amendment); and (3) to have protested Israel’s March 2017 anti-BDS law on the grounds that it includes those who reject the Occupation and would support a boycott of products from the settlements.

It’s the last of these that is the most significant. My inclusion on this list appears to signal an ominous development that extends far beyond me. Over the past half year, various individuals have been either denied entry to Israel or have undergone long interrogations at the border. Some were certainly supporters of BDS and some may have actually been planning to engage in political activities in Israel.

But not all. Consider the case of Peter Beinart, who flew to Israel for a family celebration and had to answer questions about his views and activities before he was let go (the Israeli government later apologized unconvincingly for his treatment). Beinart is hardly an exponent of boycotting Israel. It seems that his sin, like mine, is to oppose the Occupation, a position also endorsed by millions of Israelis.

Or consider the cases of Katherine Franke of Columbia University and Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who were leading a delegation of civil rights lawyers and were deported on flimsy or non-existent grounds. Warren’s only sin seems to have been his association with Franke, whose only sin was an earlier, but no longer active, connection to Jewish Voice for Peace (Franke also supports an academic boycott of Israel but continues to collaborate with Israeli academics).

We also know that the border police seem to be working off of the Canary Mission’s website since those (like Franke) who have been interrogated report that the questions they were asked were taken almost verbatim from the website.

So, the picture that now emerges is that Israel is relying on a covert spying operation to exclude critics who, while they may call themselves Zionists (I certainly do), reject a State of Israel that permanently rules over millions of non-citizens. Indeed, anyone who does not accept this illiberal and authoritarian vision of Israel’s future must be labeled anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. And so that such enemies not spread their lies, they should be deported forthwith.

The purveyors if these anti-democratic measures clearly have little faith in the justice of Israel’s current policies or else they would not need to make bogeymen of American professors and students, as if our petitions and proclamations might collapse a country with the world’s fifth most powerful army.

There is a profound irony in this new exclusionary policy. The opponents of BDS claim that they oppose boycotts, but what looks more like a boycott than denying entry to those with whom you disagree? And what will it say about Israel’s commitment to academic freedom (proclaimed against international academic associations that adopt anti-Israel boycott resolutions) when I next travel to Israel in my capacity as a scholar of Jewish Studies and find myself on the next plane home?

David Biale is Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis and the author or editor of eleven books in the field of Jewish Studies.


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