Shir Hever is an Economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.
TRNN transcript (video below):
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
The Israeli Parliament this week passed a new law which allows the government to deny entry to anyone found to be in support of the boycott divest sanctions movement, otherwise known as BDS.
This is obviously getting a lot of attention from a variety of different people and today, to give us some more explanation about, it we’re joined with Shir Hever. He is a Real News correspondent. He’s joining us today from Heidelberg, Germany. Shir, thank you so much for being here.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Kim.
KIM BROWN: So, Shir if you could explain briefly what the new law is about, actually. And how is this now an entry ban in Israel similar or different than the Trump entry ban?
SHIR HEVER: Right. In Israel, the Minister of the Interior has the authority over who can enter the country and who cannot. And there have already been people who were banned from entering Israel because they were accused of supporting the boycott movement against Israel. This is already a situation before the new law. The law actually takes away the freedom of the Minister of the Interior and says that anyone who is found to be supporting the boycott movement would be banned, unless the Minister of the Interior makes a specific effort and writes an exemption for that person.
So, in that sense, this law is now closing the gates of Israel to anyone who supports the boycott. The question, how do we know? How does anybody know what some person thinks or supports?
And I think here’s where we see a very strong similarity with the Muslim ban of Trump, known as the entry ban for the six countries. Trump has already mentioned during the campaign he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States, but how do you know if somebody’s a Muslim? This is basically their belief, their opinion. It’s something that is in your thought.
And so, instead of banning everyone who’s a Muslim he’s banning people from countries, which are predominantly populated by Muslims. And in a very similar way the Israeli law is actually targeted at people’s thoughts, their beliefs. If somebody supports a boycott of Israel, they would not be allowed to enter the country. And the way to identify these people has to be through various roundabout mechanisms, just like with the Trump ban.
KIM BROWN: Yes. And, but I think there are some more obvious differences there. Because, obviously, with the Trump ban now, with the six countries that have been listed on the entry ban, as you mentioned, Shir, they are all majority Muslim. However, with this BDS ban, as it were, coming from Israel, I mean, it really applies to anyone in the world.
And I was reading a piece, I believe, from The Independent in the UK, which was openly questioning whether or not British MP, Jeremy Corbyn, would be allowed into the country. He is a politician who has criticized Israeli policy as it relates to dealing with Palestinians and is also a supporter himself of the BDS movement.
So, has the Interior Ministry of Israel said whether or not there will any exceptions for academics, for politicians? I mean, is this going to be a blanket ban even for someone like Jeremy Corbyn?
SHIR HEVER: I think the way that the law is written is extremely wide. It is a blanket ban and, in fact, it goes way beyond the BDS movement. Because they’re saying anyone who calls for a boycott of products or companies within the territory under Israel’s control. And there are a lot of people, especially in Europe, who don’t want to boycott all of Israeli goods, but they say we cannot support the occupation directly so we don’t want to buy goods coming from illegal colonies. Those we boycott. So those would also be banned.
And, indeed, the ban is for the entire world but here’s the crunch of it. Because for the entire world this is about tourism. This is about diplomatic missions; this is about business missions and visits. What about people who actually live under Israeli control? And would be in a situation that they cannot leave because they cannot come back again. That’s another similarity to the Trump Muslim ban.
And, in fact, the Israeli Minister of Justice tried to create this kind of exception within the law and they said, “What about all these Palestinians who are not Israel citizens but they have Israeli residency, a permanent residency, which is not very different from a U.S. Green card?” They should be exempt from the law otherwise they would be effectively expelled if they ever leave the country for whatever reason. And the lawmakers decided to specifically not to include that exception.
That means that every Palestinian under Israeli control, that includes four and half million Palestinians under Israel military occupation, simply don’t have the right to support the boycott anymore. If they make any kind of statement supporting the boycott, then they’re going to not be able to leave the country. Or, if they do they, will not be allowed back.
KIM BROWN: So, Shir who initiated this law in Israel and what exactly are they trying to achieve?
SHIR HEVER: The law was initiated by a small group of Israeli Knesset members led by one Knesset member called Bezalel Smotrich. Bezalel Smotrich is an extremely racist, right wing lawmaker in Israel who also calls for segregation in Israeli hospitals so that Jewish women and Palestinian women will not have to give birth in the same section of the hospital together. And this is a very populist move by him. It’s not going to deal any kind of blow to the BDS movement, to the boycott movement against Israel, if anything it’s going to make it even stronger.
But, this kind of law is a call for popularity within Israel. And indeed, we see that the Israeli right wing and even the Israeli center were not really able to speak up against the law because anyone who says, “Well, this law doesn’t make a lot of sense,” then they would be seen as maybe not patriotic enough, maybe even secretly supporting the boycott movement. So that’s what they were trying to achieve to create this kind of message that you’re either with us or against us.
KIM BROWN: So, we’re talking about this law and, as you said, Shir, it appears to be very broad. It appears what the law is doing is targeting BDS activists. So, are we talking about a large group of people? Or is this law mainly being passed as a symbolic gesture, as warning?
SHIR HEVER: Well, the growing BDS movement around the world is quite large. But, compared to the world population of course, it’s tiny. When we’re looking at the tourism industry in Israel, however, it seems that Israel doesn’t really have this luxury of selecting who they want to ban. And by adopting this ban this could deal a serious blow to the tourism industry in Israel because any person who could be found to have published something on Facebook, or have signed some kind of petition supporting what the Israeli police would interpret as supporting the boycott. Or maybe somebody would just have the similar name to somebody who signed a petition, that person could be then banned from entry.
And, I think when enough people are banned from entry — there’s already cases of people who were banned and they said we actually don’t support the boycott, but they banned us because they said we support the boycott — well then, it’s a serious discouragement for people to visit the country even as tourists because you’re going to have to submit to some kind of thought test to see what are your politics. And it could end pretty badly if you just happen to have bad luck. So, I think it’s much more than symbolic.
The question is, of course, will it really be implemented?
KIM BROWN: And what kind of reaction did this law get from people inside of Israel? How did people respond once this law was passed?
SHIR HEVER: The vast majority of the Israeli lawmakers and the Israeli public remain silent about this. The media does not cover this very thoroughly. There were a few articles. But, from the opposition, there’s very interesting voices that we hear and I think the most interesting one is by Knesset member, Dov Khnenin, from the United List of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, and he said, that, in fact, this law is a form of boycott on Israel because Israel is responding to the international community saying we’re going to shut the door on you. We’re not going to have normal relations with you as long as you continue to violate international law and human rights. Israel is responding and they say, “Oh, we will shut the door first. We are going to disconnect from the international community.”
So, if anything, this law itself isolates Israel even further and, therefore, actually furthers the goals of the BDS movement.
KIM BROWN: So, Shir, my understanding is that Israel has been doing a similar sort of screening for foreign visitors entering the country, for at least a handful of years now. I can think of at least two or three pro-Palestinian advocates who are American, who spoke about travelling to Israel and said that they were asked to present their smartphones and, you know, disclose their social media accounts, and various types of checks to ensure or maybe verify that these people were who the Israeli government thought they were.
So, is that, number one, true? And second of all how does what this law does now, how is this different from what Israel was doing before? Trying to root out pro-Palestinian activists coming into the country?
SHIR HEVER: In terms of surveillance and violation of privacy there is not democratic country in the world that stoops to the level of Israel. Israel is much more similar in that sense to countries like China or Saudi Arabia, a very serious invasion of privacy of visitors and so on. That’s certainly not new. This new law, like I said, is a popularity move within Israel.
It’s not really intended to influence the global boycott movement. It’s not going to convince anybody in Europe or North America or anywhere else to say, “Oh, maybe I should stop supporting the boycott because I really love visiting Israel and going to the beach.” That’s not going to happen.
So, what is actually going to happen, probably, is that the current situation will just continue. People will still be screened and humiliated at the border. Mainly people who the Israeli police or the Israeli security companies decide are a security risk or a risk of being political activists, so they will be questioned further and strip-searched and their e-mails opened, their phones browsed and so on. That will probably continue.
But, I don’t think that they’re going to start really deporting large numbers of people just because their names appear on some petition supporting the boycott. Because if they do that then, indeed, this would be a death blow to the Israeli tourism industry and they just simply can’t afford it.
This is a main difference, between the United States and Israel and the U.S. new ban initiated by Trump, the big difference is that in Israel laws are only partially implemented. The fact that there is a law on the books doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be 100% implemented.
And a good example of that is the anti-boycott law that was passed in Israel 2011. This law says that any Israeli citizen who supports the boycott, can be sued for damages by companies who claim to have lost money, because of the boycott. And so far, since 2011, not a single person has been sued using this law. So, the fact that the law exists means that it’s a tool in the arsenal of Israeli security authorities but they don’t always feel compelled to actually make use of the laws that they have.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. The State of Israel can change the swing for the fences when it comes to human rights and civil rights violations. So, we appreciate you bringing the story to us. We’ve been talking to Shir Hever who is a Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. Shir, thanks a lot.
SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.