J Street is extremely concerned about two proposed pieces of legislation making their way through the Knesset that would badly damage the fabric of Israel’s democracy by restraining freedom of speech and limiting legitimate opposition to the Occupation and the settlement movement.
The first proposed bill would amend the law governing the entry of visitors to Israel, stating that permission to enter the country would be denied to anyone supporting boycotts of Israel – which is so broadly defined as to sweep in limited actions targeted at goods and products from settlements in the Occupied West Bank which the United States opposes and almost the entire international community has deemed as illegal.
This provision, if passed into law by the Knesset, would deny entry into Israel of a large number of Americans and others, including many Jews, who support and love Israel but feel strongly about the settlements and the Occupation. They would no longer be able to visit friends and family members, driving a terrible wedge between Israel and the Diaspora.
The test of a democracy is its ability to tolerate and indeed welcome and encourage free speech and a free exchange of ideas. This action smacks of thought control and McCarthyism.
The second proposed bill, falsely masquerading as a measure to promote transparency, requires that representatives of non-governmental organizations which receive more than half of their funds from “foreign entities,” including from national budgets, funds of the European Union and foundations that receive state funding, will have to identify that they are “foreign funded” by wearing a special badge while in the Knesset and indicate their status as “foreign funded” in all their publications and communications.
Though this does not seem objectionable on its face and mirrors US law to a certain extent, it is in fact deliberately one-sided, being expressly aimed specifically against progressive groups which oppose the Occupation. The provisions do not apply to the many right-wing organizations funded by private foreign donors working to expand and strengthen the settlements and to displace Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere and replace them with Jews. Neither does it apply to individuals like Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson who spends tens of millions of dollars a year to fund and subsidize a loss-making free newspaper devoted to advancing the interests and career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
These two measures are yet another worrying sign of Israel’s diminishing tolerance for free speech and legitimate political dissent of government policies. If enacted, they will weaken the US-Israel relationship, which has always been built on a bedrock of common democratic values, and they will weaken the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora by creating two classes of Jews – those whose views are acceptable to the government and those whose beliefs are seen as so threatening that they can no longer be allowed even to set foot on Israeli soil.