Israel detains one activist and deports another, amid int’l outcry over boycott ban

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Two accounts have come in today about Israeli law enforcement actions against activists accused of fostering boycott. At least one is directly related to the law against visitors who support boycott that the Israeli parliament passed last week.

Hugh Lanning, from Twitter

The longtime Israel activist Jeff Halper was detained for allegedly sharing pro-boycott materials during an occupation tour of East Jerusalem. And the head of the British Palestine Solidarity Committee, Hugh Lanning, was reportedly deported from Israel last night when he tried to enter.

From Haaretz this afternoon on the detention of Jeff Halper, the human rights activist who grew up in Minnesota:

‘Police detained Israeli American left-wing activist Jeff Halper on Monday at the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, for suspected incitement, saying they acted on a complaint he had “materials related to BDS” in his possession.

Halper, picked up after leading a tour of foreigners to the E1 site across the road from the settlement, was transported by police van to a nearby station then released without being placed under arrest.

Police officers photographed the posters and maps he was holding before freeing him. Halper denies handing out any material related to BDS during the tour, or even discussing the boycott movement.

Handing out such materials would not have been in violation of the law, even a 2011 anti-boycott law according to which a person or an organization calling for the boycott of Israel, including the settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without them having to prove that they sustained any damage.

The law also denies a person or a company that declares a boycott of Israel or the settlements eligibility to bid for government tenders. A separate law passed this month entitles Israel to deny entry to pro-BDS activists.

Halper, cofounder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told Haaretz he was on a tour with foreign visitors in the territories last Wednesday. He took the group of 15 to a lookout over Area E1, near Ma’aleh Adumim.

Lanning was deported from Israel because of his “ongoing actions to promote boycotts against Israel,” according to a statement from the immigration authority reported here.

He flew back to London on Monday morning, authority spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said. “The organisation Mr. Lanning heads is one of the leading anti-Israel delegitimisation and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) organisations in Britain, and one of the largest in Europe,” a joint statement from the immigration authority and the strategic affairs ministry said.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign issued this statement re the British labor activist.

Hugh Lanning, chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, last night became the first victim of a law passed by the Knesset last week banning those advocating BDS from entering Israel.

The law states that visas or residence permits will not be granted to anyone who individually calls for a boycott of the state of Israel, or who is part of an organisation that calls for a boycott of the state of Israel. The ban extends to those who call for a boycott of any areas under the control of Israel, including settlements in the West Bank, which are regarded as illegal under international law.

Israel’s restriction of British citizens’ freedom to travel has the potential to see many parliamentarians, from all political parties banned from visiting Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories due to their support of banning the import of illegal settlement goods to the UK. Prominent figures such as trade union leaders, cultural figures and academics could also be banned.

The law is part of a range of actions Israel has taken in recent months targeting human rights activists. Last week a Human Rights Watch member of staff was denied a work permit to enter Israel.   Ian Levine, Deputy Executive Director of Programmes at Human Rights Watch stated “This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values.  It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”

Commenting on Hugh Lanning’s deportation under the boycott law, Ben Jamal, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said,

“Last week, the Knesset passed a law to ban entry to foreigners who advocate the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Last night, the first victim of this new law was PSC chair Hugh Lanning, who was detained overnight and deported from Israel this morning. We believe that he is now permanently barred from the country. In the past Hugh has been able to travel many times to visit Israel and Occupied Palestine. 

By introducing this law, Israel is violating fundamental freedoms essential to a democracy- the right to free speech, to criticise government policies and human rights violations, the right to advocate non-violent actions to address human rights abuses, the right of free movement and travel. A democratic country does not behave in the way Israel is behaving.

If Israel believes that by introducing these draconian undemocratic laws it will intimidate its critics into silence it is mistaken. The PSC will not stop raising its  voice to highlight the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel itself.

We call upon all those who care about democratic values to join us in condemning the deportation of Hugh Lanning and the passing of this repressive law. We call upon the British Government to make clear to Israel that it is not acceptable for it to ban entry to British citizens whose only crime is to advocate for human rights of the Palestinian people and to protest against policies that violate those rights .”

Haaretz published today two “Arrest me” letters to the editors. One was written by a rabbi that supports a boycott of settlement products and intends to travel to Israel soon.

My two upcoming trips, one in June and the other in October, are to attend academic conferences – one concerning Hasidism and the other regarding the Zohar.

I tell you all this because I fear we might have a problem. Because of my political and religious views, I refuse to recite kiddush over wine that is labeled as made in Kiryat Arba. That has been my practice for many years. I am concerned about violation of Jewish laws regarding theft, oppression and other interpersonal transgressions that are involved in agricultural products created by Jews in the West Bank territories. Although I do not abstain entirely from eating such produce when I visit Israel, I am more strict regarding kiddush. While I am not a rabbi who makes decisions on Jewish law for others, I have informed my students that this is my custom.

Until now, I have not made a public statement about this but am now doing so. I need to know whether that means I am included among those who will no longer be permitted into the country, because I support this degree of boycott on a product of Israel’s West Bank settlements. If that is the case, and this “border decree” includes me within it, please advise me and I will cancel my planned visits.

The New York Times editorialized against the law on Friday, and noted that many Jews support BDS.

No doubt there are haters of Israel among B.D.S. supporters. But there are also many strong supporters of the Israeli state, including many American Jews, who ardently oppose the occupation of the West Bank and who boycott products of the Israeli settlements in occupied territories. Publicly declaring all of them to be haters of Israel is unjust and counterproductive. Counterproductive because the law projects an image of Israel as hostile to anyone who disagrees with the occupation and settlements, encouraging louder calls for boycotts every time a visitor is turned back at the airport.

At The Nation, Mairav Zonszein says that the new law marks a turning point in the country’s relationship with US liberal Jews, and could turn Israel’s greatest former allies into nemeses. She says Israel doesn’t care:

Israel is sending the message that it in fact does not want or need American Jewish involvement, if that involvement takes the form of pitched criticism or dissent, and that the cultural or historical connection is just not that important to them. Now that there is a robust pro-Israel base in the United States comprised of Islamophobic Republicans, messianic Christian Evangelicals, and right-wing Jews who unconditionally support Israel, the government no longer feels the need to deal with critical American liberal Jews.

…In the face of its diminishing legitimacy, Israel has gone on the offensive by attacking the legitimacy of criticism and dissent. It has been doing so for years by attempting to quash Palestinian non-violent resistance and, more recently, by silencing Israeli human rights activists and organizations. Now it is turning this policy outwards against its greatest allies abroad. It has made clear that being pro-Israel has nothing to do with being Jewish, or liberal, or supporting democratic values, human rights, or critical thinking.

Open Hillel today called on Hillel International to condemn the “dissenter ban,” which it points out “will impact the thousands of Jewish students who travel to Israel to tour, study, research, and intern or work.”

“Because of this legislation, Jewish students who challenge Israeli government policy will be unable to see, experience, and learn about the country that plays such a significant role in modern Jewish life,” said Ben Pakman, a junior at Hunter College and Media Coordinator for Open Hillel. “Hillel must stand up for its students and defend our freedoms of speech and thought.”

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I can easily see 1930s-style book burnings in Israel’s not too distant future!

Book burning – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_burning

“As a Christian” I am outraged that far right and increasingly fundamentalist regime in Israel presumes a right to prevent me me from visiting Holy Land based on their censure of my opinions and beliefs. There was (and patently is) a very good reason why Jerusalem is considered corpus separatum… Read more »

I am waiting with bated breath for Jon 66 to arrive and protest the prevention of free speech of these people. “Amigo, You are confusing the message and the messager. It’s not about my credibility. It’s about the positive value of free speech. The positive value of innocent until proven… Read more »

An example of the wedge-driving effect of Israeli actions on the right and left factions of the American Jewish community. Free speech? Non-violent advocacy? Further, It is incongruous to advocate for the support of refugee immigration to the US, while Israel is barring Syrian refugees. At the behest of the… Read more »

Ronald Johnson,
What are you referring to ? What books were banned at Amazon? What’s your source?