Israel will soon search for, deport, and prevent the entry of international activists involved in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, based on intelligence provided in part by hotline tips to a task force, said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan Sunday.
The program was announced on the minister’s Facebook page with a see-something-say-something statement.
“If you have information about someone pretending to be a tourist who is actually staying in Israel as a boycott activist,” Erdan said, “tell us about it and we will remove him from the country.”
Recommendations for who to deport will be under the purview of “a joint team which will operate to expel and prevent the entry of boycott activists to Israel,” Erdan said. The group will comb through intelligence files and solicit tips on foreign visitors to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory who “are working here to incite and inflame, to collect information on Israel and then distort it and use it abroad to promote boycotts against Israel,” Erdan said, adding, “Does this sound reasonable to you? Of course not.”
While the program is likely to be far-reaching in data collection on the whereabouts of internationals involved with pro-Palestinian human rights groups, only a fraction will be issued notices to leave, according to an unnamed source close to the ministers who spoke to Haaretz.
“For instance, we’ll have to think whether deporting certain individuals will benefit or harm Israeli interests. If it’s a foreign national whose pro-boycott activities are minor, and he is mainly involved in promoting human rights then we have no problem with that. But if it’s a group which is mainly involved in promoting the boycott and delegitimization of Israel then we have no interest in him coming in here,” the source said.
While Erdan did not specify which groups will be the target of the anti-BDS effort, Haaretz intimated the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) could face the first round of banishments.
“What really scares me is to not have witnesses,” Neta Golan, the ISM’s co-founder, told Mondoweiss.
Her group’s members operate in the West Bank and Gaza, where volunteers primarily document the Israeli military and settlers in confrontations with Palestinians. “ISM volunteers also accompany children to school and farmers to harvest their olives in areas where they face ongoing settler and military violence,” said Golan. “We find that our presence sometimes results in reducing the level of lethal force used by the Israeli military against unarmed Palestinians.”
Golan says ISM has been targeted before. Last fall Israeli settlers in Hebron posted placards in the city with the names and photographs of ISM volunteers, asking for others to report them to the Israeli authorities, she said.
Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee released a statement today, indicating his group also anticipates removals.
“Deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot. If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists’ home countries,” said Abunahel.
Israel has taken steps in recent years to outlaw campaigns to boycott the Jewish state over its occupation of the Palestinian territory, and in the past denied entry to those suspected of pursuing pro-Palestinian activism during their vacation and educational stays.
In 2011 Israel’s Knesset passed a law under which Israeli companies could sue boycott activists for losses incurred as a result of boycott campaigns. The law is limited to Israeli citizens, and does allow for criminal charges. No business has yet to use the law to seek damages from boycott activists.
Still, Golan noted Israel has for more than a decade already deported activists involved in pro-Palestinian groups, and many individuals uninvolved in the BDS movement. Such instances are common knowledge, she said; though until Sunday Israel had never explicitly stated whether a policy existed to deny entry for those entering for activism purposes.
It is enough “to have a book by Edward Said, or an Arabic sounding name,” Golan said, in order for an individual to be deported at Israel’s airport and border crossings. “Many are activists and many are not and have just been caught in the Israeli paranoia,” she said.
Notably, Israel detained and deported the former president of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki in 2015 after he attempted to land in Gaza as part of an aid flotilla.