Israel’s Anti-BDS Law Backfires

May 2, 2017 | Evelyn Gordon
About the author: Evelyn Gordon is a commentator and former legal-affairs reporter who immigrated to Israel in 1987. In addition to Mosaic, she has published in the Jerusalem Post, Azure, Commentary, and elsewhere. She blogs at Evelyn Gordon.

Making use of new legislation meant to close Israel’s borders to active promoters of the movement to boycott the Jewish state, officials in Jerusalem recently tried to prevent Omar Shakir, an anti-Israel activist working for Human Rights Watch (HRW), from entering the country. But after HRW used its contacts in the State Department to pressure Israel, Shakir was granted a visa. Evelyn Gordon explains what this reversal shows about the law’s weaknesses:

By this decision, Israel eviscerated the one crucial point the law got right, despite the many it got wrong: you cannot wage an effective war on the BDS movement while giving the people behind it a pass. . . . Shakir is the epitome of someone who should have been denied entry, and his case exemplifies why the law’s basic assumption—that boycotters must be targeted personally—is 100-percent correct. . . . He has given lectures on college campuses in which he accused Israel of being an apartheid state, advocated anti-Israel boycotts, compared Zionism to “Afrikaner nationalism,” rejected a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the grounds that it would “institutionalize injustice,” and called for ending Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. . . .

[A]llowing Shakir to take up his post will do Israel incalculable harm. Yet, instead of doing the minimum research required to justify barring him as an individual, the border-control authorities made a hasty decision in February to deny him a visa on the sweeping grounds that HRW is an anti-Israel organization. Clearly, accusing an entire organization of being anti-Israel is far harder to justify, even if it happens to be true (which, in HRW’s case, I believe it is). Doing so without exhaustive research and intensive preparation for the inevitable diplomatic backlash was insane. . . .

[T]he new law . . . makes such damaging outcomes even more likely. Why? Because it differs from the old law, which also allowed prominent boycott advocates to be denied entry, in one respect only: instead of border-control officials needing the interior minister’s permission to bar a prominent boycotter, they can now do so on their own authority unless the government intervenes.

In other words, under the old law, visas were theoretically denied only in cases where the government had already decided it was prepared to stand behind the denial. By handing this authority over to relatively low-level officials, the new law makes it even more likely that the government will end up beating humiliating retreats from eminently reasonable decisions simply because they were made without the necessary research and preparation.

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