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.