Israel: An ill-judged ban

Israel’s decision to blacklist 20 activist groups and block their members from entering the country is a self-defeating move

 

Israel’s decision to blacklist 20 activist groups and block their members from entering the country is a self-defeating move that betrays once again prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s alarming intolerance of dissent both at home and abroad.

The travel ban, which will affect members of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a Nobel peace prize-winning US Quaker group and organisations in France, Germany and elsewhere, is a response to their support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, founded more than a decade ago to lobby businesses, academics and artists to shun Israel. Netanyahu’s government has invested heavily in fighting the movement, which it says represents a threat to Israel’s character as a Jewish state. BDS calls for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, ending discrimination against Israeli Arabs and granting a right of return to Palestinian refugees.

The blacklisting follows the passing of a law last year that allows for the barring of foreigners who support the boycott or belong to organisations that do. The publication of the list showed that Israel was shifting “from defence to offence,” said minister for strategic affairs Gilad Erdan.

If the ban has any effect, it will be strengthen the BDS campaign, not weaken it. More than a decade after the movement began, there is little evidence that it has caused any significant long-term damage to Israel’s economy. The rightward drift in Israeli politics, the absence of any peace process and the relative lack of international pressure on Netanyahu mean that, if anything, the ultimate aims of the BDS movement are arguably further from being achieved than they were a decade ago. By responding with a ban that dispenses with democratic norms and shows a contempt for free speech, however, the Israeli leadership does immense damage to its own case.

That’s why the latest move should be seen less as a meaningful attempt to respond to the BDS movement than a domestic gambit by a right-wing government eager to placate its own hardliners.

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