This week the Knesset passed a law that enables the Interior Ministry to deny entry into the country to non-citizens without residency permits who are supporters of boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The law does not distinguish between boycotts of all of Israel, or those that relate only to Judea and Samaria. It allows the Interior Minister to make exceptions in individual cases.
The usual suspects have expressed their opposition for the usual reasons.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said, “We’re talking about a law that is against freedom of expression, that constitutes political censorship and is meant to silence people. It’s ostensibly against the boycotters of Israel but it doesn’t make a distinction between Israel and the settlements and it thus serves the BDS movement.”
Peace Now said the ban is “neither Jewish nor democratic” and “a clear violation of freedom of expression. Through this law the Bennetyahu [sic] government will not prevent boycott but rather, deteriorate Israel’s international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation.”
And Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism said, “It’s going to be a giant sign up by the door of the Jewish state: ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’ I don’t know what kind of democracy makes that statement.”
There are plenty more where those came from. So let’s get a few things straight.
First of all, a sovereign state gets to decide which non-citizens may cross its borders. Period. There is no internationally recognized human right to enter any country one wishes. And the state’s decisions can be based on whatever criteria it chooses. There is no requirement that the rights applicable to residents of the country also apply to non-residents who want to enter it.
Second, the law doesn’t limit free expression. Nobody is prevented from advocating BDS inside Israel or outside of it. It simply keeps out people who have expressed opinions that, in the judgment of the state, are a good indication of intent to harm the state.
Indeed, if it were only about advocating boycotts, it is unlikely that the law would have been passed. But BDS supporters have a history of joining anti-state demonstrations inside Israel, using their status as foreigners as a shield against punishment if they engage in illegal behavior. BDS supporters have entered the country in order to try to provoke violence from security personnel, to embarrass the state, and to create propaganda events.
The BDS movement has a purpose, and that is to delegitimize Israel as a sovereign state. The movement makes demands that could not be possibly met without dismantling the Jewish state (e.g., a “right of return” for the descendants of Arab refugees), and calls for Israel’s excommunication from the world community unless they are met. BDS is part of a program of “cognitive warfare” against the Jewish state that is intended to weaken it and isolate it from all external support – so that it will be easier to destroy it.
Third, the law is not “undemocratic.” It doesn’t limit the rights of Israeli citizens in any way. The law itself was passed by the democratically elected Knesset in a democratic vote of 46 to 28 members.
Several of its opponents have objected to the law on the grounds that it does not distinguish between boycotts of products or residents of the whole country, or just of the disputed territories. But the Knesset members who drew and voted for the law felt that any boycott, even a partial one, promotes delegitimization of the state. Residents of Judea and Samaria are no less Israelis and their rights are as important as those of residents of Tel Aviv.
Israel has a very special problem which I think Americans in particular fail to understand – possibly because they live in an enormous and mighty (economically and militarily) country. Israel is always under attack for its very existence, both by continuous terrorism and periodic war, and by cognitive warfare – which includes psychological warfare, propaganda, “lawfare,” and other means to destabilize and disrupt the country itself, and to drive away or disconnect it from external sources of support.
For at least two decades, our enemies – particularly European countries who think a Jewish state should never have been created – have been pumping millions of Euros and dollars into “Israeli” organizations operating inside our country and international “human rights” groups which, with the help of media friendly to them, carry out cognitive warfare against us. One of their techniques is to send operatives here who cooperate with Arab militants in demonstrations and other activities. As I mentioned above, they use their status as foreigners to shield them from the consequences of illegal behavior; at worst they are deported. Then they return to their home countries and “testify” to the conditions of oppression under which the Arabs live in the land of Israel.
I don’t know if such tactics have ever been employed against the US, or if they could be. But they have been very damaging to Israel. And that is why the Knesset has passed a (weak) law to partly control foreign-funded organizations operating here, and why it is important to keep foreign agents out.
I have a particular problem with the Union for Reform Judaism in the US and its leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who consistently attack Israel as being less than perfectly “democratic,” in relation to women, Arabs, and minorities of all kinds. He particularly opposes Israel’s reluctance to implement a 2-state solution (and thereby turn itself into an indefensible island in a sea of enemies). Jacobs likes to threaten that if we don’t accept his version of what it is to be Jewish and democratic, American Jews will withdraw their support. The implication is clear that he knows what is good for us better than we and our democratically elected government (and especially the Prime Minister!) do.
Jacobs seems to feel so strongly about the rights of non-residents to oppose the Jewish state that in 2010 he participated in a demonstration against Jewish “settlers” in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, and then bragged about it to his congregation in a Yom Kippur sermon. He has also tried to play the 800-pound gorilla in the recent controversy surrounding the status of women and mixed prayer at the Western Wall.
The law permitting Israel to refuse entry to BDS supporters is no more or less than an assertion of sovereignty, the very sovereignty that is so aggressively denied by Hamas – and more politely by Rabbi Jacobs. It is a sort of “Iron Dome” against agents of cognitive warfare, and it is about time we had one.