UK Jews blast ‘undemocratic’ Israeli law banning boycotters
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UK Jews blast ‘undemocratic’ Israeli law banning boycotters

Community alarm at controversial new travel policy barring entry to BDS supporters

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Britain’s Jewish community has delivered rare and unanimous criticism of Israeli policy, in response to a new law banning entry to visitors from organisations that support anti-Israel boycotts.

The Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council, New Israel Fund, Union of Jewish Students (UJS), Jewish Labour Movement and Trade Union Friends of Israel were among those branding the move “anti-democratic”, “indiscriminate” and “deeply problematic”.

The law not only bans individuals who support a boycott of Israel or settlements, it also applies to leaders and representatives of organisations that support settlement boycotts – even if that person opposes boycotts.

Jewish student leaders said this would have profound impli- cations for Jewish students who join the National Union of Stu- dents (NUS), or for non-Jewish student union leaders who personally oppose boycotts but whose own unions voted for it.

“This law has the potential to have damaging consequences for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike,” said a UJS spokesman. “It is deeply problematic that there will be Jewish students, many of whom may visit Israel regularly, who could be turned away because of their association with NUS or the handful of students’ unions which support the boycott, divestment and sanc- tions (BDS) campaign.”

He added: “The clear polarisation that exists in the student movement on the issue of Israel-Palestine highlights the importance of providing student leaders with the opportunity to visit Israel and Palestine and meet those who are affected by the ongoing conflict, as we have done for a number of years. This law has the potential to hinder that work and further entrench the divisions we see on campus.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for TUFI: “Putting aside the cred- ibility that this policy gives to the BDS movement, we are concerned that pro-Israel trade unionists would be prevented from entering Israel, because their national union supports BDS. We need to get union activists into Israel, to meet with their sister trade unions and change the attitude to Israel of their own trade unions. I’m afraid this policy won’t help.”

A Board of Deputies spokesperson agreed, saying: “We oppose boycotts tirelessly, and understand Israel’s desire to come down hard on those extremists who target Israel unfairly. But due to the indiscriminate nature of this legislation, we doubt whether it will be helpful in the fight against the haters.”

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, had a more fundamental problem with Israel’s new law, which bans entry on political grounds.

He said: “This law undermines the cherished value of free speech, which is so essential in a democracy. We need to seek urgent clarification from the embassy because the risk is that enforcement of this law will provide ammunition to our enemies and make the battle against BDS in the UK so much more difficult.”

Israeli politicians voted by 46-28 to ban foreigners who support either a wholesale boycott of Israel or just of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with critics claiming they were “trying to erase the Green Line”.

“The Israeli government is using political litmus tests to decide who may enter the country, which is profoundly anti-democratic,” said New Israel Fund’s British chief executive Adam Ognall.

“But this law goes beyond an attempt to silence political opinions. By conflating those who discourage buying products from settlements with those who call for wholesale boycott, divestment, and sanctions on all Israeli products, companies, artists and universities, this government is attempting to erase the Green Line.”

He added: “This harms prospects for an end to the occupation and the conflict, and hurts Israelis, Palestinians, and all those around the world who wish to see an end to the conflict and who support a two-state solution.”

In recent weeks, a senior NIF executive was detained and questioned at length, despite the charity firmly opposing boycotts, and last week, Israel denied entry to an American employee of Human Rights Watch, citing the organisation was “in the service of Palestinian propaganda”.

Ognall added: “We oppose attempts to discriminate against those who advocate for non-violent strategies. We believe in free speech and we are committed to upholding the right of Israelis and others to boycott settlements as a protest against the occupation and a show of support for the two-state solution.”

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