Yesterday, New Israel Fund Vice President Jennifer Gorovitz was detained and questioned at Ben Gurion airport for 90 minutes when she arrived in Israel to attend a New Israel Fund board meeting. In response, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch sent out an email to supporters (see below) saying the incident appeared “to be an act of political targeting by border security.”
While I understand Sokatch was describing an example of Israeli harassment of someone trying to enter the country, I found the letter to be an example of the problem itself.
When Gorovitz was being interrogated, Sokatch says:
“Jen told officers that she is a Jew and a Zionist, that she works for NIF to support the Israeli civil society sector.”
Is NIF suggesting that, if she weren’t Jewish and weren’t a Zionist, it would be ok to detain her? Why make an argument that is only used to justify discrimination against others who aren’t considered “kosher?” The rationale she presented to them so that she would be permitted entry only feeds into Israel’s racist policies and practices.
The letter also says:
“Nevertheless, knowing Jen as I do, and knowing all that she has done for Israel over the years — we’re talking about the former CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation and a woman who has raised millions of dollars for Israel in her career — this incident drives home the nature of the intimidation that our Israeli brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.”
So, in NIF’s view, raising money for Israel is a reason to be allowed entry into the country? Those who haven’t raised millions shouldn’t have the same right to entry? Again, this argument only serves to justify Israel’s racist, Islamophobic, and ideologically motivated practices.
And NIF says that this incident drives home what Israelis go through? I wasn’t even sure what that refers to. But how about all those who aren’t Israeli who are denied entry to the country, not to mention the ongoing harassment and intimidation—and worse–that Palestinians experience on a daily basis.
This experience was an opportunity for NIF (which does support some great organizations) to highlight the ways Israel discriminates against and harasses in excruciating ways, Arabs, Muslims, and others who are refused entry into the country as well as having their freedom of movement controlled within Israel. Just recently, a number of Muslims and people of color from the US who were part of a delegation to Palestine were denied entry to Israel. Further, this experience offered an opportunity to stand in real solidarity with those banned (and blocked by walls) because of race, religion, nationality, and refugee status, among other discriminatory reasons.
NIF’s letter describing what happened at the airport reinforced the very system it claimed to be opposing.
Here is New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch’s letter to supporters:
I’m writing to you from Jerusalem, where we’re preparing for a board meeting that will begin Sunday, to let you know that, as reported by Haaretz, my colleague Jennifer Gorovitz, our VP for Finance, Operations, and Administration, was briefly detained at Ben Gurion airport as she entered Israel tonight.
Jen told officers that she is a Jew and a Zionist, that she works for NIF to support the Israeli civil society sector. She was interrogated about NIF’s work in a very unpleasant way. She endured three rounds of questioning and was released only after NIF’s attorneys started pressuring the border police.
This appears to be an act of political targeting by border security.
It’s no secret that the values that NIF champions are anathema to the current Israeli government. And we all know that under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership the Israeli government has been working to harass and to block funding for some of the very Israeli human rights champions that NIF supports. So it should not be a total surprise to hear that government officials have start intimidating NIF.
Nevertheless, knowing Jen as I do, and knowing all that she has done for Israel over the years — we’re talking about the former CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation and a woman who has raised millions of dollars for Israel in her career — this incident drives home the nature of the intimidation that our Israeli brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.
I want to be clear: NIF stands for something deeply meaningful. We believe in a vision of a better Israel — one that is marked by equality and democracy. We will not let this incident — or the ongoing harassment of our partners on the ground — deter us from the work we believe in.
We will not back down.
Daniel Sokatch, CEO
New Israel Fund