This has become the season of a new kind of #MeToo — of left-leaning critics of Israel who have been stopped at the border and questioned under indirect interrogation governed by the Shin Bet internal security services before being allowed into the country.
The tipping point may have been the questioning on Aug. 12 of journalist and political science professor Peter Beinart. A highly visible liberal Zionist who opposes Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank and supports a two-state solution, Beinart wrote about his experience in the Forward of being asked to step aside for extra screening at Ben-Gurion Airport: “Then the political questions began. Was I involved in any organization that could provoke violence in Israel? I said no. Was I involved in any organization that threatens Israel democracy? I said no — that I support Israeli organizations that employ non-violence to defend Israeli democracy.”
A week earlier, Simone Zimmerman — the co-founder of If Not Now who, in 2016, was fired by the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders when a Facebook post of hers using vulgarity in reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to light — was stopped at the border after a weekend in the Sinai. Zimmerman, who lives in Israel on a work visa, said she was detained by Israeli authorities for four hours, during which she was asked why she worked with Palestinians and not Jews.
Clearly this treatment is different than the “did anyone give you a package to bring” that most air travelers are familiar with. Some have noted that it is not unlike the scrutiny that Palestinians undergo when entering the country.
Netanyahu called Beinart’s detention an “administrative mistake.” Few believe that, and it doesn’t answer the question of why Zimmerman and other critics of the government have been detained and asked about their politics.
“This is stupidity,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and a government minister. “It cannot be explained. It is folly, ridiculous.” And Knesset member Nachman Shai, from the opposition Labor party, called for an investigation into what he called “blacklists.” “This is reminiscent of the darkest totalitarian regimes,” he wrote.
Shai is clearly overstating the case, and we don’t consider Beinart an ideological ally of ours, much less Zimmerman. But it is true that Israel’s government has moved uncomfortably to the right under the last few years of Netanyahu’s historically long rule, and the authorities have become much less tolerant of dissent and opposition. While we are not concerned that Israel’s democracy is in danger — despite their “ordeals,” Beinart, Zimmerman and other left-wing critics were nevertheless allowed in — we do note that a free society should be able to tolerate even harsh criticism and recognize that not every critic is an enemy.
Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber has reportedly asked the Shin Bet to clarify the reasoning behind its actions. We look forward to Zilber’s findings.