Israel’s New Rules


A.J. Caschetta Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow, Middle East Forum
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Hugh Lanning, a British citizen and chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was denied entry into Israel Sunday night, the first militant anti-Zionist to fall victim to a new law banning entry to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

“Whoever acts against Israel should understand that the rules of the game have changed,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said afterwards.

Prior to the new law, anyone from a “friendly country” who came to the Jewish state could stay on a three-month entry visa unless specifically singled out for non-entry by the Interior Ministry.  As Miriam Ellman notes, the new law places the onus on visitors connected to boycott movements to explain why they should be granted admission.

The ambiguous language can be construed as applying not only to those, like Lanning, who are involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but also to those who embrace what I call Backdoor BDS –accepting and advocating some parts of the BDS program, such as boycotting only “West Bank” products or sanctioning only certain Israelis.

The law is a determined act of self-defense, an increasingly rare occurrence among free nations in the 21st century.  As one of the bill’s sponsors explained, “Preventing BDS supporters who come here [from] hurt[ing] us from the inside is the very least we should be doing against haters of Israel.”

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) called self-defense the “second principle of natural law.”  Only the foolish and the dead refuse to defend themselves.

Yet many in the media and academia find fault in Israel doing what every other nation on Earth does.

Making no attempts to disguise its contempt for Israel, The New York Times misleads its readers with the   headline “New Israel Law Bars Foreign Critics From Entering the Country.”  Preventing entry of “critics” is not the same as preventing entry to enemies who are determined to undermine and delegitimize the country.

American academics have responded to the new law in ways that will not surprise those who follow such matters.  The BDS-ers are outraged that they will have to contain their activities to countries other than the one they are attempting to erase.  Backdoor BDS-ers are worried they will be conflated with “genuine” BDS-ers.  And of course everyone is concerned about their academic freedom, as Elizabeth Redden documents at Inside Higher Ed.

  • BDS-er and MLA Members for Justice in Palestine (MLAMJP) activist Cynthia Franklin, an English professor at the University of Hawaii, worries that she will be prevented from teaching at Al-Quds University next year.
  • BDS-er Nadia Abu El-Haj, anthropology professor at Columbia University, is concerned about “international scholars who work on Palestine” like a colleague who “may well be turned around at the Tel Aviv airport” en route to a conference at Birzeit University.
  • Backdoor BDS-er David Biale, a professor of Jewish history at UC-Davis (who favors “a boycott of the settlements but not the country as a whole”), fears he will be mistakenly barred from entering Israel.  Biale asks “Is this [law] just for propaganda reasons for the extreme right-wingers in Israel?”
  • But the tin-ear award goes to Laurie A. Brand, chair of Academic Freedom committee at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), who worries that the new law constitutes (you guessed it) “a violation of free speech, freedom of conscience and specifically academic freedom.”

Those Israeli citizens who join the BDS movement are still perfectly free to undermine their country’s legitimacy if they choose. Outraged non-Israelis are still perfectly free (academically and otherwise) to follow their consciences wherever these paths may lead; they’re just not allowed to visit the country they’re working to destroy.

So bravo to the 46 Israeli politicians who stood up for the Jewish state (28 voted against it).  No longer can Judith Butler fly into Israel, catch a show in Jenin, give a lecture at Birzeit, and then fly home to denounce Israel and humanize terrorists. MLAMJP members wishing to visit Israel (or “Palestine”) to write up fanciful reports of oppression will have to fly into Egypt, take a bus to Gaza, and then enter the country through the network of tunnels traversed by Hamas bombers and stabbers.

Good luck with that.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.