Human rights lawyer: Israel’s new anti-BDS travel ban violates international law

Israel/Palestine
on 29 Comments

The Israeli Knesset on Monday passed a controversial new law aimed at barring any Boycott Divestment and Sanctions activists from entering the country, sparking outrage among pro-Palestinian groups and human rights activists.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer and political activist specializing in international human rights law told Mondoweiss that the law is focused on those needing an Israeli visa entering at any border controlled by Israel, including foreigners needing an Israeli visa attempting to enter the occupied West Bank directly via Jordan. The law is not applicable to those attempting to enter the occupied West Bank who do not need an Israeli visa.

While activists have voiced concern over whether the law could be implemented at internal Israeli checkpoints inside the country, the legislation seems to be focused only on Israeli borders and airports.

As far as advice to those worried about getting banned due to the new law, Sfard said he could not say, as it is difficult to know how the law will actually be enforced.

“It is not clear how the law will be applied,” Sfard told Mondoweiss. “In principle and theory it’s enough that you signed a petition declaring your participation in boycott to be denied entry to Israel. However, it will be difficult to create a list with all the names of those boycotting and make the linkage to their passport numbers. I guess that at least in the beginning the law will mainly be applied to ‘famous’ boycotters.”

According to Sfard, the BDS legislation is not just controversial, but also in direct violation of international law.

“Countries have wide discretion to allow are deny entry to foreigners,” Sfard told Mondoweiss. “However, International Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s opinion and provides freedom of conscious and thought. The law is definitely a violation of both.”

The law bans people who call for BDS against Israel, as well as its settlements.

Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and political analyst at the Arab Center of Washington, D.C. said that the BDS supporter ban should be a message to the world that Israel is against any form of criticism, even peaceful movements.

“For years, Israel has tried to delegitimize its critics by associating them with violence, today it makes clear that even those calling for non-violent dissent in the form of BDS are barred from accessing Palestine/Israel,” Munayyer said. “This moment, however, will only serve to further delegitimize Israel itself, making clear to those still on the fence that a state that cannot even tolerate non-violent dissent is no democracy and is instead fundamentally at odds with the values of democracy and pluralism.”

Another contentious point in the law, is that it does not make a distinction being foreign tourists and activists, and Palestinians with temporary residency in Israel — a distinction not lost on the Israeli Justice Ministry, which urged lawmakers to make a note of exception for Palestinians to not be included in the ban, as including Palestinians could make it easier for the legislation to be knocked down in court.

However, Sfard said he is not so sure the law has a chance of being abolished within the justice system due to the progression of the Israeli right within the system.

“The Israeli court has went through tremendous change in recent years and its conservative-nationalistic-illiberal wing has become much stronger than ever before. The first anti-boycott law — which made it a civil wrong to call publicly to boycott settlements — has passed its scrutiny a few years back by a majority of five-two,” Sfard said. “The current law is much more radical, but the court is aligned much more to the nationalistic rights too. It will be a difficult case to win.”

One of the co-founders of the Palestinian BDS movement, Adnan Ramadan, told Mondoweiss that the new law was not surprising, as it “reflects the mentality” Israel has taken on regarding ways to deal with issues.

“This is how Israel deals will issue when they oppose an opinion, they try to ban it,” Ramadan said. “But it will not work. Their goal is to stop people who support Palestine from being able to come here and see what is really happening, but they will not succeed, people will still find a way to come to Palestine, and Israel will keep having to do more and more to try and hide their apartheid policies.”

To Ramadan, the law signals a message that BDS is working, and instead of changing policies that caused the BDS campaign in the first place, they are reaching out for ways around the campaign’s success.

“At the heart, this is the structure of the Israeli mentality toward the freedom of movement, it’s how it can exist as an apartheid system,” Ramadan said.  

Omar Barghouti, Palestinian commentator and human rights advocate, co-founder of the Palestinian civil society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, agreed that the law was a signal that the BDS campaign’s pressure on the Israeli government was working.

“The nonviolent, inclusive, and clearly effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is more than ever as an integral part of the rising global resistance to the far-right, in D.C., Tel Aviv, and many cities in between,” he said in a statement.

Barghouti also pointed out similarities between the BDS travel ban and the US travel ban on Arabs from certain countries, a new version of which was signed by U.S. President Donald Trump the same day the Israeli legislation was passed.

“That Trump’s ban and Israel’s ban happened on the same day is telling,” Barghouti said. “Trump has frequently cited Israel’s draconian policies as inspiration for his own racist wall with Mexico, which Netanyahu openly supported, for his own refugee and Muslim ban, and for his own support for ethnic profiling.”

Editor’s Note: This story was edited to clarify that the law is not applicable to those attempting to enter the occupied West Bank who do not need an Israeli visa.

About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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29 Responses

  1. AddictionMyth
    March 8, 2017, 9:29 am

    The solution is simple. Just pick a BDS target, e.g. Soda Stream, and write a comment online encouraging people to boycott it. Then buy your tickets to Israel and print out your comment and tape it to the outside of your luggage. Let the games begin!

  2. eljay
    March 8, 2017, 10:14 am

    … Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer and political activist specializing in international human rights law told Mondoweiss that the law is focused on those entering at any border, including those attempting to enter the occupied West Bank directly via Jordan.

    While activists have voiced concern over whether the law could be implemented at internal Israeli checkpoints inside the country, the legislation seems to be focused only on Israeli borders and airports. …

    If the legislation covers accesses to the West Bank, Gaza and the Free City of Jerusalem – all of which are under military occupation by Israel – how does that make it “focused only on Israeli borders”?

  3. JLewisDickerson
    March 8, 2017, 3:28 pm

    RE: “Israel’s new anti-BDS travel ban violates international law”

    MY COMMENT: International law? That will have them laughing hysterically in Netanyahu’s office and the Knesset!

    “Netanyahu orders reprimand of Belgian ambassador” | Reuters | Feb 8, 2017

    Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered the reprimanding of the Belgian Ambassador over a meeting between Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel with representatives of two Israeli rights groups.

    Israeli Channel Ten reported that Michel had met with representatives of Israeli human rights group B’tselem and Israeli advocacy group Breaking the Silence during his visit to the region.

    Both organizations have become popular targets for right wing politicians who accuse them of damaging Israel’s reputation abroad and putting Israeli soldiers and officials at risk of prosecution.

    “Israel views with gravity the meeting held today,” a statement from Netanyahu said. “Belgium must decide whether it wants to change direction or continue with an anti-Israeli line.”

    Netanyahu had met with Michel on Tuesday in Jerusalem.

    Breaking the Silence, which collects testimonies from Israeli war veterans and B’tselem are highly critical of Israeli policies and practices towards the Palestinians.

    In 2016 Israel passed a law requiring NGOs that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments or bodies to provide details of their donations. The legislation was largely seen as targeting left-wing organizations such as B’tselem and Breaking the Silence and drew international criticism.

    SOURCE – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-belgium-idUSKBN15N2RA

  4. Talkback
    March 9, 2017, 9:51 am

    “However, International Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s opinion and provides freedom of conscious and thought.”

    As if JSIL understands the basic concept of freedom of conscious and thought.

  5. Theo
    March 9, 2017, 1:13 pm

    I wish good morning to the author, however everything Israel and the zionist did during the past 80 years is illegal and against international laws.
    Starting with buying up lands from absenty owners, immigrating into Palestina contrary to laws, subjugating, killing and driving out the population to form a jewish state, stealing uran in the USA and building nuclear bombs, constantly have “defensive” wars against the arab neighbours to enlage their territory, stealing the land of the palestinians, killing them without a cause, bombing cities full of civilians, using phosphore boms forbidden by international laws, attacking ships on international waters, sending murder commandoes of Mossad to foreign countries, etc. Did I miss anything?

    • Jackdaw
      March 9, 2017, 1:23 pm

      @Theo

      And where do you live?

      *Theo heads for the tall grass*

      • Theo
        March 9, 2017, 1:38 pm

        Jackdaw

        Do not understand you, however gladly give an answer on meaningful question!

      • amigo
        March 9, 2017, 3:30 pm

        “*Theo heads for the tall grass*” jackduh

        Says roger the dodger.

      • inbound39
        March 9, 2017, 7:23 pm

        And Jackdaws eventually fall off their perches.

      • Jackdaw
        March 10, 2017, 3:35 am

        @Theo

        What country do you live in?

        *Theo feigns stupidity*

      • Jackdaw
        March 10, 2017, 3:39 am

        @inbound

        “And Jackdaws eventually fall off their perches”.

        But not before pooping on lowlifes like you.

      • Mooser
        March 10, 2017, 10:39 am

        “Theo feigns stupidity

        You are no faker, “Jackdaw.” Your stupidity is the real thing. Just like mother makes.

    • talknic
      March 9, 2017, 8:42 pm

      Yes Theo, you missed over a hundred years by the Zionist Federation and its institutions ripping off Jews by loaning specifically poor Jews money at interest on condition they put themselves and their families on the front lines where there was and still is most danger. A task now taken over by the State of Israel, who continues that fine tradition of lying to, taking advantage of and f*cking jews over

    • Talkback
      March 10, 2017, 1:52 am

      Theo: “Starting with buying up lands from absenty owners.”

      Hi Theo, why was that illegal?

      • gamal
        March 10, 2017, 12:16 pm

        you know when Sulayman wanted to build a new capital for Jund Falastin he asked the Christians of Lydda for a grant of land they said no, he whined they didn’t relent, so he had to build it out in the raml hence, or remal i guess. makes you think, perhaps,

        Ramla

        ( i will forgo the whole raml, naml, ramla nambla opportunity)

  6. Stogumber
    March 9, 2017, 9:10 pm

    “International Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s opinion” and therefore selective rules for entering a country (Sfard)?

    I am constantly confused about “international law”. On first view, it seems to be based on agreements between nations. On the other hand, it seems regularly to support policies to which no nation in its good sense ever would have agreed.

    Nations are build by humans who want to protect each other against common enemies. That’s the good reason why nations exist. So, no nation will deliberately open its borders to hostile aliens (on whatever “opinion” their hostility is grounded) – so may we really assume that any nation has agreed to such an international law?

    Or is “international law” perhaps something which never has been based on agreements but something which was invented by a small class of “international lawyers” behind the back of the peoples on whom it is enforced afterwards?

    • talknic
      March 9, 2017, 11:18 pm

      @ Stogumber March 9, 2017, 9:10 pm

      ” … “international law”. On first view, it seems to be based on agreements between nations. On the other hand, it seems regularly to support policies to which no nation in its good sense ever would have agreed”

      Example of such policies

      ” … no nation will deliberately open its borders to hostile aliens (on whatever “opinion” their hostility is grounded) – so may we really assume that any nation has agreed to such an international law?”

      When the opinion is that a state should adhere to the law, is it actually hostile? Adhering to the law seems to benefit countries. The HasBarristers here have given a fine example. Soda Stream has increased in value since abandoning its illegal operation in the West Bank

    • Talkback
      March 10, 2017, 2:03 am

      Stogumber: ” So, no nation will deliberately open its borders to hostile aliens (on whatever “opinion” their hostility is grounded) – so may we really assume that any nation has agreed to such an international law?”

      Correction: No fascist nation will deliberately open its borders to critical aliens.

      • MHughes976
        March 10, 2017, 4:09 am

        If a government is confident that it will win any objective argument and is not short of people who are highly articulate and influential and who will defend it many areas of the world it surely make sense to accept tourists, at least from those countries, who will turn into hostile propagandists on their return home. Just another battle for public opinion to be won, just another opportunity to make all those friends feel effective and appreciated. So if the potentially hostile characters are in fact turned away there may be an uneasy conscience beneath the bravado.

  7. Kay24
    March 10, 2017, 7:35 am

    Occupation of the American mind. Al Jazeera movie about the zionists hasbara spreading propaganda in the US, making Americans think that Israel is the victim, and that it is “defending itself”, to gain sympathy and keep the illegal settlements going.
    A worthwhile watch:

    http://mediaed.org/occupationmovie/about.html

  8. jon s
    March 10, 2017, 8:57 am

    According to this horrible law, I would be banned from entering, if I were not a citizen.

    • Mooser
      March 10, 2017, 10:43 am

      “According to this horrible law, I would be banned from entering”

      Only because you are large, grey, and always carry a trunk.

      • amigo
        March 10, 2017, 11:02 am

        “Only because you are large, grey, and always carry a trunk ” Mooser

        Unless he is on the way to a soccer match , in which case he carry,s a bench.

        Btw , wait until Mossad finds out about Jon s ,s outreach activities , even being a citizen wont save him.But he can always get on the next flight to his other ancestral homeland where he will proudly present his us passport. Aint life grand when you have options.

      • Mooser
        March 10, 2017, 11:39 am

        “But he can always get on the next flight to his other ancestral homeland where he will proudly present his us passport.”

        Oh well. Zionism will never redeem the ancestral homeland with people like “Jon s”.
        Why should he make the hard choices involved in consolidating a colonial effort into a secure state? If “Jon s” doesn’t like the choices Israel makes, he can go.
        So if Israel isn’t to “Jon s” liking, and doesn’t meet “Jon s” ethical and religious standards, he can just leave.

        You can’t make a State out of that kind of wishy-washy, hare-today-goon-tomorrow material.

  9. Maghlawatan
    March 10, 2017, 1:17 pm

    Israel looks more and more like apartheid SA. This law is proof hasbara and Israeli tourism are dead.

  10. HarryLaw
    March 10, 2017, 4:04 pm

    The thing about International Law is that the 5 veto wielding states AND their friends are above International Law for all time.
    “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.”
    But, on the other hand, Article 23 of the Charter grants five of its Members permanent
    seats on the Security Council, and Article 27 gives each of them a veto over decisions of the Council. Clearly, all Members are equal, but some Members are more equal than others.
    http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iraq/ags-legal-advice.pdf

    • talknic
      March 10, 2017, 11:49 pm

      States willing, veto for a select few could be done away with. For the while, pigs might fly.

      As it is, it does have the effect of preventing UNSC sanctioned wars between those five powers …

  11. Erasmus
    March 12, 2017, 7:53 am

    1967 Law of FREE Access to Holy Sites

    The new NO-Entry Law not only contradicts International Humanitarian Law providing freedom of conscience and thought, but also the 1967 Israeli Law that guarantees
    FREE ACCESS to all Holy Sites.

    Can you imagine, for example, this No Entry LAw would bar for example all Christian Pilgrims who object against the Occupation now 50 years ongoing.

    This Knesset Law must be appealed before the Supreme Court and annulled.

    • Mooser
      March 12, 2017, 12:38 pm

      “This Knesset Law must be appealed before the Supreme Court and annulled.”

      No! Never! We can not compromise on the purity of Israel! Keep Israel glat! Support the Knesset Bill!
      Why should anybody who doesn’t support Israel be allowed to sully the land?

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