JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has stepped up its battle against outside supporters of an international boycott movement against the Jewish state with a new law that would bar entry to them.
The measure drew fierce criticism Tuesday from dovish activist groups who condemned it as the latest in a series of steps to silence critics. Officials, meanwhile, struggled to explain how it would be enforced.
The BDS movement advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel in what its supporters say is a nonviolent way to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence. It has urged businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel and includes thousands of volunteers around the world.
But Israel says the campaign goes beyond Israel’s occupation of lands claimed by the Palestinians and masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the country.
The law, which was approved by the Knesset Monday night, does not apply to Israeli citizens or permanent residents. It states that no visa or residence permit will be given to anyone who “knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott against the state of Israel or committed to participate in a boycott.”
It also includes who boycott Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank — a position that is supported by many Israelis as well.
“This isn’t about someone who personally boycotts, but a person who calls for boycott or who actively participates in a boycott,” said Betzalel Smotrich, a lawmaker from the pro-settler Jewish Home party who sponsored the bill. “We can’t prevent that in the place he lives, but we should definitely not help him and let him into our country and allow him to use us as a base against us.”
Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott movement, called the measure an “Israeli regime own-goal par excellence.”
“It is not a requirement or a necessity for human rights defenders and groups supporting BDS to enter the country to do their work effectively,” he said. “If anything, banning them from entry will further motivate them to increase their work.”
Israel already is known to detain prominent BDS activists and sometimes deport them.