Israel Bans Leaders of 20 Pro-BDS Groups

Jewish Voice for Peace members protest in Chicago last March. JVP is one of the groups Israel has banned. (Inbal Palombo photo)

For 20 organizations that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, it is now virtually impossible for their leaders to cross Israel’s borders.

On Jan. 7, Israel’s Strategic Affairs and Interior Ministries issued a list of the groups they consider “consistently and openly” trying to “delegitimize Israel.”

In the initial statement regarding the blacklist, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said the country has “moved from defense to attack.”

“Boycott organizations need to know that Israel will act against them and will not allow [them] to enter its territory in order to harm its citizens,” Erdan said.

This is not the first instance of the country striking out against the BDS movement. Last March, Israel passed a law denying foreign nationals who had publicly called for boycotts from entering the country.

Six groups from the United States are banned, including campus groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

In a prepared statement to the JT, JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson called the decision “disconcerting but not surprising.”

“JVP members are now joining Palestinians as well as Muslims from around the world, people of color and other activists who are often barred from entry,” Vilkomerson said. “Our JVP members have no doubt about the justice of fighting for equality and freedom for all people in Israel/Palestine and the legitimacy of BDS to bring that closer. We will not be bullied by these attempts to punish us for a principled political stance that increasing numbers of Jews and non-Jews support worldwide.”

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that ultimately Israel has “the right to create criteria for who they allow to enter [the country].”

“Israel views BDS as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” Libit said. “The regulations are pretty clear that this isn’t about political criticism of Israel or anything like that. This is about the leadership of these organizations that have undertaken ongoing, consistent and significant actions to promote and advance a boycott of Israel. … They’re not going to be targeting every person who’s a member of these organizations. I find that a bit reassuring, that it’s aimed at the leadership of these groups.”

For Vilkomerson, who has “considerable family” in Israel, she called the policy a “personal hardship.”

“But I am also heartened that it is an indicator of the BDS movement’s growing strength and hope that it will bring the day closer when just as I go to visit my friends and family in Israel, so will Palestinian friends and colleagues be able to return home,” she said.

David Pollock, Kaufman Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Washington Jewish Week that he didn’t foresee the ban having a large impact.

“I think the ban is a terrible idea,” Pollock said, “even if from the point of view of Israel’s own interests.”

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