Why should Israel let in anyone who hates it?

EARLIER this month, the Knesset approved legislation denying entry to Israel to any foreigner "who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel", who works for an organisation that has made such a call, or who has "committed to participate in such a boycott".

Unsurprisingly, this legislation had been the subject of very lively discussion - as is entirely appropriate in a parliamentary democracy.

But whatever might have been said in the heat of the moment in Israel is as nothing compared with the howls of semi-hysterical disapproval that have emanated from assorted Jews in the UK.

Some of this disapproval has frankly been based on sloppy journalism. The actual wording of the law is important.

Trade Union Friends of Israel mistakenly voiced its concern "that pro-Israel trade unionists would be prevented from entering Israel because their national union supports BDS".

But if they don't actually work for the union, they've nothing to fear.

The Union of Jewish Students complained that Jewish students who visit Israel could be turned away if they've any association with the National Union of Students, which supports BDS, or a university with a BDS policy. Again I say: if they don't actually work for the union or the university, they've nothing to fear.

The Jewish Leadership Council opined that the new law "undermines the cherished value of free speech". It manifestly does no such thing.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, while pleading that it opposed boycotts "tirelessly" and understood Israel's desire "to come down hard on those extremists who target Israel unfairly," nonetheless wondered aloud whether, "due to the indiscriminate nature of this legislation", it would actually be helpful "in the fight against the haters".

Why "indiscriminate?" But Hannah Weisfeld, head of the allegedly pro-Israel pressure group Yachad went further.

"Regardless," she declaimed, "of the rights and wrongs of the BDS movement, legislating against people's right to use boycott as a form of protest is problematic.

"There are very mixed opinions among the Jewish community, around the settlements in particular. I worry this could open a diplomatic crisis between Israel and the wider Jewish community."

Well, Hannah, I too am worried. My worry is that - regardless of the rights and wrongs of the group in whose name you speak - you either do not understand what BDS is really about, or you do understand what BDS is about but dare not speak its name.

What is Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment? To answer this question, let us turn not to any Zionist propagandist or like-minded website but to two international authorities on anti-Israel prejudice, neither of whom is known as (and I put this mildly) an uncritical friend of the Jewish state.

Let's turn first to Dr Norman Finkelstein, a leading apologist for Palestinian Arabs, who in a breathtaking interview in February, 2012, with a French pro-Palestinian activist declared his outright opposition to BDS.

"I loathe the disingenuousness [of BDS proponents]," he said. "They don't want Israel [to exist]. It's a cult."

And the good doctor went on to accuse BDS activists of "inflating the numbers" of Palestinian refugees and "want[ing] to create terror in the hearts of every Israeli" rather than resolve the conflict.

"I'm not going to tolerate what I think is silliness, childishness, and a lot of left-wing posturing," he said.

Let us then turn to Professor Noam Chomsky, who in an article in The Nation (July 2, 2014), while naturally unremitting in his condemnation of Israel, warned that BDS was actually likely to harm the Palestinian cause since demanding a "right of return" to Israel for Palestinians displaced in and since 1948, had palpably failed to muster any significant international support.

I should add that in 2015 Chomsky characterised the inevitable criticisms of Finkelstein's critique of BDS as "completely uncalled for, indeed outrageous".

Dr Finkelstein was right. The ultimate aim of BDS is indeed to bring about the collapse of Israel. As such, it is a movement suffused with anti-Jewish prejudice.

Economically, BDS has suffered miserable failure. Since 2009, the annual growth of the Israeli economy has averaged 3.8 per cent; last year its GDP rose by about 3.5 per cent.

But in spreading antisemitism, BDS still has some life in it. The law passed by the Knesset on March 6 will not prevent anyone outside Israel from voicing criticism of the Jewish state. But why should Israel be expected to admit into the country those who seek its dissolution?

Come to that, why should anyone who wants to boycott the Jewish state also want to visit it?


© 2017 Jewish Telegraph