In stepping up its efforts to enforce a law barring supporters of boycotts of Israel or the settlements from entering Israel, the Netanyahu government effectively announced that it is shrinking the enterprise of a national home for the Jewish people. Now, only those Jews whose political opinions are identical to those of the thought-control ministers, Gilad Erdan and Arye Dery, are allowed to visit the country.
Ariel Gold, an American Jew active in an organization that supports imposing a boycott to protest the occupation, discovered the new Israel this week when she was denied entry even though she had a student visa obtained in advance. In response, Gold announced that she plans to apply to immigrate to Israel. If she does so, Erdan and Dery will have to decide between the existing interpretation of the Law of Return, which is the ethos on which the Jewish state was founded, and their war on a handful of pro-boycott activists.
Nor is it only Diaspora Jews whom they are targeting. Recently, two Israeli citizens active in left-wing organizations were delayed when they tried to enter Israel. This brings us nearer to the day when action will also be taken against Israeli citizens who, for instance, support a boycott of settlement products. Even today, the selective enforcement, whose precise principles are murky, is having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
Given this atmosphere, it’s important to remember that calling for politically motivated boycotts is a legitimate means of voicing protest and expressing opposition. You don’t have to support a boycott to defend the freedom of expression of those who employ it as a nonviolent tool in their battle against governments and corporations.
Erdan and Dery are inflating the magnitude of the boycott threat for their own political purposes. The government’s insistence on including the settlements in the law against boycotts was meant to eliminate the distinction between criticizing the occupation and opposing Israel’s existence. Thanks to the erasure of this distinction, our right-wing government can reject criticism of the occupation out of hand and raise an outcry over the “new anti-Semitism.”
But this failure to make a distinction is a two-edged sword, because anyone who opposes the occupation now finds himself in the same boat as Israel-haters. Gold is proof of this.
We must not allow this right-wing government to turn Gold into an enemy of Zionism. The only one threatening the Zionist enterprise is the government itself.