Monday, March 13, 2017

Israel curbs on its borders and tries to silence pacifist NGOs

A battery of laws by the right-wing government of Netanyahu threatens expressions of dissent

Two years after the elections that led to the formation of the most right-wing government in Israel's history, a battery of legal reforms threatens to muzzle expressions of dissent, especially those of pacifist NGOs and groups aspiring to be critical Of the Hebrew State on the occupation of Palestinian territories, about to fulfill half a century. The latest sign of this restrictive legislation this week was the passage by the Knesset of an amendment denying entry visas to foreigners calling for a boycott of Israel or Jewish settlements.

"We are against any boycott, but we find that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has set in motion a process of delegitimization of those who do not think the same as power," says Avner Gvaryahu, a prominent member of Breaking the Silence (BTS). Organization of veteran Israeli soldiers denouncing abuses committed by the Army. BTS designed last year the Israeli and Palestine tour of Nobel Prize for Literature Mario Vargas Llosa, which was captured in the series of reports "Havoc of Israeli occupation" published by EL PAÍS. "They want to impose the law of silence," warns the former military, who in 2015 appeared in a video of accusations to NGOs broadcast on Facebook by groups of the extreme right. Since then he has suffered threats.

Interior Security Minister Gilad Erdan of Netanyahu's Likud party says that "every country has the right to determine who enters through its borders." "Israel's boycott calls have grown in recent years. This is a new front in a war that so far the country had not approached properly, "said the Knesset website after the law was passed.

Faced with a policy of decades of invitations to visit the country to figures of the arts or sports and opinion leaders to promote the image of an Israel that aspires to be modern, innovative and democratic, Netanyahu's Government now seems to be rooted in doors Inside. The measure of veto on the borders has not only been criticized by the left, but has been received with concern among moderate political sectors because of the negative consequences that may have for the international interests of the country.

The Jerusalem Post, a conservative newspaper and usually close to the Netanyahu government, has questioned in an editorial article a rule which, because of its ambiguity, has the potential to do more harm than good to the Jewish state, Decision to close the doors of the country in the hands of "low-level officials" and "sends the wrong message that there is something to hide." Zionist Union deputy (center-left), Manuel Trajtenberg, of Argentine origin, has considered that a "constructive engagement" with pro-boycott groups is a more reasonable option to deal with the issue.

Paradoxes of the law

With this legislation in hand, there can be a paradox that a US or Spanish Jew opposed to the occupation and who has signed a manifesto against the products exported from the West Bank colonies - a commonplace in the more liberal wing of the diaspora - Be rejected at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport if you are traveling as a tourist. But if he wants to emigrate under the so-called law of return, which grants citizenship to Jews who want to settle in Israel, the same border agent will be obliged to cross the border.

In recent months a string of legislative reforms, such as the declaration of external public funding sources, have come into force, which is seen by progressive sectors of civil society as a political operation designed to quench critical voices. They believe that the ultimate goal is to restrict the activities of the more than 70 Israeli NGOs that question government policy on settlements and denounce abuses. This is the case of B'Tselem, which aired a year ago the video that showed an Israeli soldier who shot a head shot at a Palestinian attacker who was badly wounded in Hebron (south of the West Bank). The military man was tried and sentenced for manslaughter to 18 months in prison.

Bypassing those who have spoken out in favor of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to the State of Israel - or "an area under their control", in a clear allusion to the colonies - does not change the factual situation. The Israeli authorities already had legal recourse to expel those they consider hostile to the Jewish state.

Last day 2, before the vote of the law in the Knesset took place, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for Israel and Palestine, the American Omar Shakir, was rejected at the Ben Gurion border. Years ago, he had campaigned for the BDS after comparing the situation under Israeli occupation to that of South Africa in the apartheid era. Quoted by the Times of Israel news portal, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon justified the decision to ban Shakir from rating HRW, one of the world's leading human rights NGOs, as a "manifestly anti-Israel organization , Whose reports have the sole purpose of harming Israel beyond the truth or reality. "

In a recent editorial, The New York Times, which closely monitors information about the Jewish state and is a medium of reference for the American Jewish community, argued that this border control law "projects an image of Israel as a hostile country to All who do not agree with the occupation and the settlements. "

"In other words, anyone who thinks the settlements are harmful to Israel will not be able to enter the country," columnist Sima Kadmon argued in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, the best-selling newspaper in the Israeli press. "The government and the Knesset have been involved in passing a long series of laws that are beginning to change the nature of a state that is defined as the only democratic in the Middle East," the political analyst added.

The leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, warned during the Knesset debate that the rule is "logical and necessary since it allows Israel to defend itself against those who want to harm it." Bennett's religious nationalists are part of the Netanyahu Government coalition along with right-wing, conservative and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Executive claims that the legislation responds to a strategic threat against Israel that has its roots in anti-Semitism. For this, last year it had an official budget of 30 million euros to combat the BDS movement.

Free Speech

From NGOs, it is said that the law "violates democratic principles and freedom of expression." This is supported by the Association for the Defense of Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, a center for the defense of the rights of the Arab minority, which accounts for a fifth of the country's population. "Sawsan Saher, one of the people responsible for the latter organization," is a further milestone in the wave of government legislation that is right in history and threatens to condemn Israel to isolation by preventing political dissent ".

Peace Now, an organization founded by writer Amos Oz along with other intellectuals warns that the new rule "is going to deteriorate international support for Israel," while warning of the risk of dismemberment of Palestinian families living on horseback between Israel and Jerusalem This, annexed after the war of 1967.

Palestinian political scientist and spokesman Xavier Abu Eid further notes that under the Oslo Accords, Israel is responsible for access to Palestinian borders, with the exception of Rafah in Gaza, which Egypt only occasionally opens. "The new law passed is a twist on the illegal colonization of Palestine," Abu Eid said, recalling that the American linguist of Jewish origin Noam Chomsky was denied entry in 2010 when he tried to cross the border from Jordan by the Allenby Bridge to deliver lectures at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

"Each incident in which a boycott supporter is rejected at Ben Gurion airport after being questioned about his statements and ideas may be another nail in the coffin of Israel's image as an open, democratic and rational country," he augurs Chemi Shalev, delegate of the Haaretz newspaper in the United States.

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