I’m a U.S. Jew on Israel’s BDS Blacklist. I Have Family in Israel. But I Won’t Be Silenced

By Rebecca Vilkomerson
This Op-Ed was originally published in Haaretz.

The first time I went to Israel I was four months old. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood I visited regularly: My grandparents, in Haifa; and my aunt, uncle and cousins, on a religious kibbutz near the Jordanian border. There was no place, with the exception of the town where I grew up, to which I felt more connected.

As an adult, married to an Israeli, we spent three years living in Tel Aviv with our two young daughters, who also have Israeli citizenship.

In March last year, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill that forbids entry to “foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements,” and yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that as a result 20 organizations have been placed on a blacklist that would prohibit entry specifically to its leaders. That list was published in full Sunday. Jewish Voice for Peace, the organization of which I am executive director, is one of the organizations named.

Despite the fact that my grandparents are buried there, that my aging in-laws still live there, and my extensive ties of friendship and family, my support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) for Palestinian rights now excludes me from Israel.

BDS is a call from Palestinian civil society to build a global movement to pressure Israel to end the occupation, offer full equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and allow Palestinian refugees the right to return. The BDS movement is inspired by the tradition of nonviolent resistance to oppression, and draws on the example of the movement to divest from South African apartheid and other examples of targeted economic and cultural pressure to achieve justice.

It could not be more clear from this most recent move that the rising global tide of support for BDS deeply alarms Israel, which recognizes it as a potent tool to change the status quo of Palestinian dispossession that has been an integral part of Israeli statehood.

The Israeli ban formally expands the prohibitions it already imposed below the radar for decades – based on categories of citizenship, religious and ethnic identity – to apply to political positions. In other words, while Israel had already routinely denied entry based on racial profiling, it is now proudly declaring a blanket ban which is overtly anti-democratic.

While I am personally feeling the pain of exclusion for the first time from a place that I am bound to by deep ties, I am very aware that Palestinians have faced profiling and bans on entry to Israel, and in particular, a categorical rejection of the right of return as refugees, since the founding of the state.

As the progressive movement here in the U.S. rallies on behalf of the rights of refugees and people targeted for their identities, it is an important reminder that Israel has been pursuing similar policies for decades. The many Jewish organizations that have admirably joined efforts to end the Arab and Muslim ban in the U.S. should equally vociferously object to Israel’s decision to restrict entry by political position.

In fact, the greatest impact of Israel’s new law will likely be on Palestinians -inside Israel, in the occupied territories, and in the diaspora. Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem or abroad who are married to Israeli citizens, for example, may be forced between not traveling abroad at all or finding themselves in exile when they attempt to return. Those who want to enter Israel for medical treatment or family reunification may find it impossible.

And Palestinians around the world who speak up for their rights, and who have already faced arbitrary rejections upon attempting to enter, now face an official policy that will exclude them from their homeland.

The public naming of JVP on this list is significant. Clearly, the Israeli government is very aware that increasing numbers of Jews and all people worldwide support the BDS movement, and are seeking to intimidate and coerce us into silence.

It will not work. JVP members have no doubt about the justice of fighting for equality and freedom for all people in Israel/Palestine, and the legitimacy and efficacy of BDS to bring that day closer. As long as Israel continues to violate the fundamental rights of Palestinians, people will continue to speak out -Palestinians, Jews, and people of conscience the world over.

Rebecca Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Twitter: @RVilkomerson

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