With the announcement that members of twenty organizations will be banned from entering Israel because of their support for the BDS Movement, the Netanyahu government has struck another significant blow to the foundations of Israeli democracy.
Implementing legislation passed by the Knesset in March, this new ban is the work of a government that is increasingly obsessed with silencing criticism, dissent and non-violent political activism. The important question about the ban is not whether Israel has the sovereign right to implement this ban — it does. What matters is the damaging impact the move will have on the country’s future and core values.
J Street strongly opposes the Global BDS Movement. And we firmly believe that the only way for Israel to effectively confront and defeat it is by pursuing and reaching a two-state peace agreement that resolves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and brings an end to over fifty years of occupation. Banning BDS supporters from entering Israel will not counter their arguments or stem the global tide of concern over occupation and the treatment of Palestinians. On the contrary, the decision helps to empower the BDS Movement and validate some of its criticisms by making Israel less open, tolerant and democratic.
In the past several years, we have seen Israeli leaders pursue and embrace legislation and public campaigns designed to stigmatize and silence many of the most prominent critics and chroniclers of the occupation. Targets have included civil and human rights activists, former Israeli soldiers and some of the country’s leading writers and artists. Moving forward, no critic of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians — Israeli or foreign, Jewish or non-Jewish — can be certain that this government will not act to limit their engagement with Israeli society, or even to ban them from entering the country.
Shared democratic values have long been central to the US-Israel relationship — and they are increasingly under threat. American Jewish, pro-Israel leaders must not look away from what is happening. Instead of validating an approach to BDS defined by censorship and fear, they should recognize that the movement is a by-product of a much larger crisis that threatens Israel’s basic security, character and future.