Israel cracks down on BDS activists

August 12, 2016

Israel is intensifying its efforts to crack down on activists working for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.

On August 7, interior minister Aryeh Deri and public security minister Gilad Erdan formed a new inter-ministerial task force that will, as the The Times of Israel reported, “target supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement”.

The task force aims to prevent the entry of foreign activists allegedly affiliated with groups that support BDS. It also aims to expel those who have already entered territories under Israeli control.

The ministers reportedly “accused dozens of anti-Israel groups of operating in the country to gather information to be used in 'delegitimising' Israel. They blamed activists in the West Bank for seeking to stir up protests among the local Palestinian population.”

Israeli officials believe that hundreds of foreign BDS activists have entered through Tel Aviv airport or the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge land crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank “under the guise of being tourists,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.

Travellers, especially Palestinian Americans or those perceived to be of Arab or Muslim ancestry or religion, already face lengthy interrogations at Israeli-controlled crossings and frequent denial of entry.

“Deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot,” Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said in reaction to the Israeli announcement.

“If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists' home countries.

“This latest weapon in the intensifying Israeli legal, espionage and propaganda war against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights is a strong indicator of how desperate and irrational Israel's regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has become.”

Many Israel advocates put a brave face on BDS, constantly boasting that all the campaigns have yet to put a significant dent in Israel's economy.

But there is no doubt Israel sees any and every effort to hold it accountable through economic or other forms of pressure as a strategic threat. This includes the US and EU requirements that products from settlements be labelled accurately.

“The labelling is just one part of the big plan,” Ohad Cohen, the head of Israel's foreign trade administration, told NPR recently. “It doesn't matter whether it has a minor economic effect, we're not willing to take that.”

Israel's fight back against accountability, especially BDS, is all the more urgent amid worse than expected economic performance. It has faced a plunge in exports in the first quarter of the year.

Analysts see long-term problems for Israel's export industries that could make a quick recovery difficult. They say the drop in exports is occurring for a number of reasons, but BDS and labelling of settlement goods are undoubtedly factors.

David Elhayani, the head of a settler body in the occupied West Bank's Jordan Valley, told NPR that it is now much more difficult to sell settler produce such as dates and herbs grown on land seized from Palestinians and colonised in violation of international law.

“If it was 80% goes to Europe seven and six years ago, now it's about 30% going to Europe,” Elhayani said. “Most of our products are going now to Russia,” he added, where prices are much lower.

Abunahel said: “We salute every person of conscience around the world who has creatively, passionately and selflessly supported the Palestinian struggle for our rights under international law.

“We are confident that Israel's intensifying repression notwithstanding, this principled solidarity will significantly contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.”

[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]

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