Five interfaith delegates from the Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Muslims for Palestine, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship were banned from boarding a flight to Israel via Frankfurt from Washington DC’s Dulles airport on Sunday, an action they believe is the beginning of a crackdown against activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to end the oppression of Palestinians.
Jewish Voice for Peace, a grassroots organization that aims to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, had organized a joint, interfaith delegation of Christians, Muslims, and Jews to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in Israel and the West Bank around justice and equality for Palestinians. Most of the delegation’s 23 members boarded their flights without incident.
Rabbi Alissa Wise was one of the five in the 23-person delegation who was banned from a flight that would take her to Israel. She told Jezebel that when she attempted to check into her flight, Lufthansa agents told her that the Israeli immigration authorities were not permitting her and four other individuals onto the flight. We “were not told who made the order, what the order said, why we had been placed, how the communication happened—nothing,” Wise said.
According to Wise, two other individuals were listed on the ban, but were not at the airport—one had canceled her ticket “months ago,” Wise said, while another boarded her flight in New York without incident.
“Each country’s government has its own regulations concerning visa and entry requirements, and Lufthansa has no influence regarding the implementation or enforcement of such regulations,” said Tal Muscal of Lufhtansa’s Americas Corporate Communications office in a statement emailed to Jezebel.
“This is a new phenomenon,” said Alana Krivo-Kaufman, another Jewish Voice for Peace member who was banned from the flight. “I’ll say that I was shocked that Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders caused enough notice by the Israeli government to cause this to happen. There were 18 other members of the delegation who made it in. On the other hand, I was not surprised. We’ve seen a deepening of repression, crack-down on dissent within Israeli society, including the passage of BDS activist ban in the last year. It’s possible that this is the first implementation of that ban.”
In March, Israel’s national legislature, the Knesset, passed an amendment barring leaders, activists, or organizations who consistently support the BDS movement from Israel. Interior Minister Arye Dery and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan issued a public statement on the incident confirming Wise and Krivo-Kaufman’s fears. “These were prominent activists who continuously advocate for a boycott and who sought to come [to Israel] as part of a delegation of extremist boycott organizations whose entire purpose is to harm Israel,” the statement said.
“The Interior Ministry prevented in this case, and will also prevent in the future, the entry of boycott activists whose key objective is to work against the State of Israel,” Dery said, as reported by Haaretz.
“I think that this signals a new era in Israel’s crackdown on dissent and control of movement,” said Krivo-Kaufman. “We were, in the delegation, prepared for racial profiling at the airport in Israel. We were prepared for definitely Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim members of the multi-faith delegation to be intensely questioned and potentially detained.”
“We were not prepared for this,” she said.
“If the multifaith group of five leaders were denied for our political action, for our political support of Palestinian human rights, that shows that this is not a religious conflict,” she added, calling it a “political conflict.”
Congress is also considering a bipartisan anti-BDS bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would expand existing laws to ban Americans from supporting boycotts organized by international organizations, like the United Nations and the European Union, against Israel and its continued occupation of Palestinian territories. If passed, the ACLU notes that the law would “include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts” and impose maximum penalties of $1 million and 20 years in prison. “This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the ACLU wrote in a letter asking senators to oppose the bill.
Meanwhile, Krivo-Kaufman is concerned about what impact the apparent crackdown on will have on the BDS movement and justice for Palestine. “We don’t yet know what specifically this means for the broad majority of American society who agrees that Israeli policies need to change, and that economic pressure is necessary to change Israeli policy,” she said.