JERUSALEM — Vocal supporters of boycotting Israel and its institutions linked to the occupation of the West Bank may now have trouble visiting the country — or, by extension, the Palestinian territories.
On Monday, Israel’s parliament passed a law that denies entry visas to foreign nationals who publicly back or call for any kind of boycott — economic, cultural or academic — against Israel or its West Bank settlements.
The goal of the measure is to battle the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has found growing support in Europe and the United States in recent years.
BDS activities, which range from discouraging the purchase of goods produced in Israeli settlements to pressuring international companies not to conduct business in Israel and urging celebrities not to visit or perform in the Jewish state, are increasingly seen by Israel as a threat.
The new law says Israel will not grant entry or requests for permanent residency to people who “have issued a public call to boycott the State of Israel or pledged to participate in the said boycott.”
The law, however, does not define what a “public call” might be or say whether it includes statements on social-media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. It also does not specify how the ban will be enforced.
“We have not yet formulated the mechanisms to implement this law, but we have been working closely with the Interior Ministry in recent months to prevent those behind attempts to boycott Israel from entering the country,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, told The Washington Post.
Until now, three-month travel visas were given automatically to those arriving in Israel, and the interior minister decided on a case-by-case basis whether to bar entry by individuals involved in the boycott. The new law will allow Israel to expand that ban.
One of the measure’s sponsors, lawmaker Roy Folkman, told the Knesset: “We can feel national pride today and also believe in human rights. We can defend the reputation and the honor of the State of Israel, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party and a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, wrote on Twitter that the law was “necessary and logical,” adding that “it lets Israel defend itself from those who wish it ill.”
But Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, said the “draconian” new law showed “the face of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.” He compared it to Trump administration efforts to “ban entry to Arabs and Muslims.”
“Far from slowing down the impressive growth of BDS globally, by passing this patently repressive law, Israel may be scoring an own goal of sorts. Human rights defenders worldwide who support Palestinian freedom through BDS will clearly not stop their activism if denied entry; if anything, they will have even more motive to escalate it,” he said.
Daniel Sokatch, chief executive of the New Israel Fund, a U.S. organization that donates around $25 million a year to about 100 progressive and civil society organizations in Israel, also said the Israeli law was reminiscent of President Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
“On the same day President Trump signed a new racist, Islamophobic executive order, the Knesset has shown that it, too, will make it a matter of law and policy to use discriminatory tests to decide who may enter Israel.”