J Street is disturbed by a report that two prominent American human rights activists were denied entry to Israel this week, apparently on the basis of their advocacy for Palestinians and association with human rights groups that have been critical of Israeli actions.
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of CCR’s board and a professor at Columbia University, stated that they were detained by Israeli authorities at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, extensively questioned about their political views and activities and then deported back to the United States. They had traveled to Israel to participate in a delegation of American civil and human rights leaders to Israel and the Palestinian territory. According to Franke, “My interrogation in Tel Aviv made it clear that I was banned from entering Israel because of my work in the US on behalf of Palestinian rights.”
This action is the latest alarming example of the Israeli government’s efforts to silence political dissent and criticism of its policies and to suppress the activities of human rights advocates. These efforts are rapidly eroding Israeli democracy.
Whatever the views of these activists, they should be allowed to travel freely within Israel and the Palestinian territory to see and judge for themselves the reality on the ground, and to learn from the work being done by their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. Banning progressive activists from entering the country only undermines Israeli democracy — and empowers the global BDS movement that the Israeli government aims to combat.
Shared democratic values have long been central to the US-Israel relationship — and they are increasingly under threat. American Jewish, pro-Israel leaders must now do everything they can to speak up and act in defense of these values.