Sniffing out the BDS supporters at Ben Gurion airport, Aug. 21, 2014. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
By Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss
November 29, 2017
In an apparent escalation of Israel’s anti-BDS policy, an American Jew disclosed to Mondoweiss that in order to receive a valid visa they were forced to sign a loyalty oath to the state of Israel.
Just a few weeks ago, the individual, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, was summoned to the Interior Ministry’s office to finally receive a valid visa after months of waiting and after discreditation of a previously issued one.
But the ministry official forced the interfaith activist and educator, who self-describes an upbringing with a “typical northeast liberal Jewish education,” to write and sign a letter declaring allegiance to the state in order to receive a tourist visa. This individual had to then reapply for a work visa, which grants a longer term stay.
Handwritten on official Ministry of Interior Population Immigration and Border Authority stationery, the letter, as dictated to the individual by an agent of the ministry reads:
“I declare that I will not do any activities against Israel, the army, and its institutions.”
Similar forms have been signed; supposed anti-occupation or pro-Palestinian individuals turned away at Israel’s borders; phones confiscated; emails read; and the just-how-Jewish-are-you game played before. Such tactics comprise the border authority’s arsenal.
But this scribbled, one-sentence and ostensibly unenforceable note written in English underneath the seal of the State of Israel was signed, under threat of deportation, by an American Jew who has never publicly supported BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), worked for a Palestinian organization or committed any other such allegedly inexcusable offence.
This incident can probably be understood as implementation of a law passed by the Israeli Knesset a few months ago that empowers the interior minister to deny visas outright to BDS supporters. The law is theoretically based on the idea that the boycott movement is anti-semitic.
Two of the far-right MKs integral to the bill’s passage last March both cited this as reason for their support.
“We are talking about anti-semites here,” Knesset Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem told the Jerusalem Post, referring to BDS supporters.
While Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich said the legislation was a response to “a new anti-semitic front [that] has been initiated against Israel.”
Even though there is little evidence publicly or otherwise to indicate the individual even supports Palestinian rights, upon return to Israel from vacation this past summer, the border police explicitly said it was their job to figure out if the individual supports BDS.
The individual in question has been involved in peace and educational work for many years, both in the U.S. and Israel/Palestine, so when authorities found prior communication with Palestinians during the interrogation, this was reason enough to detain the activist.
“I’ve heard of people being denied and banned, but this is the first time I’ve heard of [forcing visa holders] to declare allegiance to the state,” the interfaith activist told Mondoweiss, then added, “It’s clear that my history of peace and interfaith work was used against me.”
Just a few months prior, the individual applied for and received a work visa from the Jewish Agency, following all the same steps one takes in order to make Aliyah — the process by which Jews from around the world apply for Israeli citizenship — while the state continues to displace and dispossess the native Palestinians.
After securing the 3-year temporary visa, which is intended for potential immigrants who want to live a trial run in Israel as it were, the individual was admitted into the country at Ben Gurion Airport without any problems.
The recent incident appears an example of the haphazard and increasingly fascistic leanings of the state.
“It just shows how far they’ve gone into the far right to profile and target people based on perceived politics,” the activist told Mondoweiss.
Obviously for Palestinians, Muslims or anyone with a slightly Arab name or features, the Israeli border is notoriously hostile; it has always been Israel’s de-facto policy to keep out or actively displace those fitting such identities.
But things get weird when the state actually starts closing itself to the particular Jewish identities it not only seeks out, but according to the state’s own ministers, desperately needs in order to maintain a demographic majority.
The so-called “demographic threat” has in the past few years become intensely concerning to Israelis and sparked debate about the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank where the moral question of occupation has failed to do so.
“Every moment we don’t separate from the Palestinians is a clear threat to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state,” former Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the 2014 Intelligence and National Security Summit (INSS) in Tel Aviv.
Lapid was referring to the total number of Jewish Israelis relative to Palestinians and noting that the Jewish state ceases being Jewish when Jews are not in the majority.
Not to mention, if Palestinians surpass Israelis in sheer population, Israel will become a literal apartheid state; with a minority ruling over a majority population which lacks rights.
The Palestinian population living in Palestine or what is the occupied West Bank and Gaza in 2014 when Lapid made these comments was growing quickly at a rate of 2.4 percent per year, outpacing Israel’s rate of population growth by 33 percent.
Under these circumstances, Israel’s increasing denial of citizenship or visas to Palestinian-supportive Jews is simply illogical by its own “demographic” rationale. It appears to be hastening its own, self-characterized demise with BDS paranoia.
Or put another way, BDS appears to be working.
Israel’s policy of denying entry on flimsy grounds is entrenched and well known. Israel has denied famous academics, politicians and artists entry at its borders; some foreign embassies issue warnings to their citizens about signing agreements under threat.
Dr. Ariel Sophia Bardi, L, a freelance journalist currently based in South Asia, has been stopped at the border and interrogated before entry her past three visits to Israel. Also an American Jew, Bardi was detained at the border in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Israeli border authorities twice made Bardi sign a contract stating she would not visit the occupied West Bank.
“They present it as if either you buy a ticket and go home from here or the only chance you’re getting in is if you sign this,” Bardi told Mondoweiss.
Although Bardi is not a Zionist, her great aunt was a member of the Haganah — one of the Zionist guerrilla forces that founded the state in 1948 through violent conquest of Palestinian villages and cities. It has morphed into today’s Israel Defence Forces.
And her great grandfather was first cousin to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and widely hailed as its founder.
“At the airport, when they interrogate me for hours,” Bardi said, she likes to point out her ancestry. “You realize the building we’re sitting in was named after my family member,” she usually tells her interrogators at Ben Gurion International Airport.
But since the BDS law passed and Israel has pinpointed the boycott movement as a major enemy, denial and even further increased scrutiny of its visitors is becoming commonplace.
“It does seem like [denial] has become more official, it’s become more open. Whereas before it was a whispered thing,” Bardi, who is at the moment unsure when or if she will try to visit Israel again, told Mondoweiss. “Now it’s a little more expected.”
“You have to subscribe to a very limited ideological viewpoint if you want to gain admittance into the country. The concept of Jewishness is getting more and more narrowly circumscribed around this very hostile, belligerent, ultra-nationalist Israeli state.
“And there’s no room for alternate viewpoints. There’s no room for dissent…and they’ve made that very clear.”
Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin