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Israel denies entry of BDS activist into country, first 'official' incident of its kind

Dec. 6, 2016 4:19 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 7, 2016 11:06 A.M.)
Graffiti calling for the "boycott of Israeli blood diamonds" on the separation wall. (MaanImages/ Anna Kokko, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities denied the entry of a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) activist into the country at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Monday, in what Israeli media reported was “the first time” the country “officially” denied entry to a foreign national who supports the movement for Palestinian rights.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that activist Isabel Phiri, a Malawi national, landed at the airport on Monday afternoon, but was denied entry as a tourist “on the basis of her activism for the World Council of Churches (WCC) group which supports the BDS movement.”

The decision involved officials higher up than just airport security officials, according to Haaretz, who said the final decision was made by Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri “following consultations with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.”

“Officials say it was the first time Israel has rejected a tourist visa on the basis of anti-Israeli action including the advancement of economic, cultural and academic boycotts,” Haaretz said.

More specifically, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry said the WCC “has been advancing the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program (EAPPI) in Palestine since 2002, and said its activists arrive in Israel for specific periods for anti-Israeli activities,” according to Haaretz.

On the WCC’s website, under the “Israel and Palestine” section, the EAPPI description reads that the program “seeks to support local and international efforts to end the Israeli occupation and bring a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a just peace, based on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.”

Haaretz quoted Minister Deri as saying that the decision was made under his jurisdiction, which “is intended for use against those who arrive under false pretenses to conduct anti-Israeli activity.”

"Granting an entry permit to activists such as Phiri would in effect reinforce the wrongful activities she and her peers are advancing and I have no intention of lending a hand to that. I will use any authority at my disposal to avert harm to Israel," he said.

Minister Erdan went on to say that the “place for boycotters” was outside of Israel’s borders, and that Israel “shall continue to do everything possible to prevent them from entering our country."

Neither an Israel Airports Authority, Israel Security Agency, nor Israel Defense Ministry spokesperson were immediately available for comment on the matter.

Though officials claimed Monday’s event was the first time Israel “officially” denied entry to a foreign national for “anti-Israel” and BDS related activities, the country has a track record of passing legislation and enacting policies targeting domestic and foreign nationals involved in the movement, and other pro-Palestinian activities.

The BDS movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.

A bill preventing supporters of the BDS movement from entering Israel was authorized last month for its first reading in the Israeli parliament, according to Israeli media.

According to a Jerusalem Post report at the time, the interior committee of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, approved the bill, which was initiated by Knesset Member Yinon Magal from the ultranationalist Home Party, paving the way for the bill to enter its first reading in the Israeli Knesset.

The bill would allow individuals supporting a boycott against Israel to be banned from entering the country.

The move came after several months of Israeli efforts to crack down on the BDS Movement. Ministers Deri and Erdan announced in August that they were forming a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

The BDS movement has gained momentum over the past year, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In late July, the Black Lives Matter movement -- which denounces police violence against African-Americans in the United States -- came out in support of BDS, stating that it was committed to "global struggle, solidarity, and support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement to fight for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinian people and to end international support of the occupation."

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has grown increasingly concerned about the growth of the BDS movement, as the movement’s support base has expanded to include companies, universities, and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.

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