Israel Bars Interfaith Leaders, Peace Advocates Over BDS Support

Jewish Voice for Peace members and others were denied entry to Israel due to their support for peaceful movements seeking equal rights to Palestinians.

Palestinian mother cries as a man comforts her.

Pro-peace advocates leaving from the United States were barred from traveling to Israel on Monday morning, showing just how far Israeli forces are willing to go to silence dissent.

In March, the Israeli parliament passed a bill that banned travelers who expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement. Also known as BDS, the movement urges consumers to boycott companies linked to the Israeli government until Palestinians have equal rights.

Now, this ban is targeting advocates for peace who aren't even Muslim or Palestinian, and who have a long history of supporting solutions that are good for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In a press release published on Monday, the advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) reported that five leaders of an interfaith delegation readying to travel to Israel were barred from boarding their plane in the United States.

According to Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP's deputy director, they were told at check-in that Lufthansa airline had received a letter from Israel officials saying they were “not allowed to fly to Israel.”

The group comprised Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders. They included Wise, who's from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; JVP member Alana Krivo-Kaufman from Brooklyn, New York; JVP member Noah Habeeb, from Virginia; Rick Ufford Chase, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, who's from Rockland County, New York; and Shakeel Syed, an American Muslims for Palestine national board member from Los Angeles, California.

While these five delegation members were singled out because of their support for BDS, 18 other participants arrived in Israel this morning. They were only allowed into the country after “several hours of detention and questioning that particularly focused on Muslim members of the delegation,” JVP reported.

Without the five members that were left behind in the U.S., the 18 participants who made the trip to Israel will be meeting with dozens of grassroots activists, members of faith-based organizations, and human rights groups both in Israel and Palestine to witness co-existence and learn more about Israeli occupation of Palestine and how the Israeli government and armed forces operate to displace and siege Palestinians.

“Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi,” said Wise. “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”

Syed, who was also barred from traveling, said that “[a]s a person of faith, Israel’s denial of my right to visit the Holy Land doesn’t dampen, but rather, emboldens my pursuit of justice and peace for Palestinians and long overdue freedom for Palestine.”

Syed also said that Lufthansa refused to let the five leaders read the official Israeli order barring them from entering the country.

JVP said the policy implemented in March is just another example of Israel's refusal to let go of its racial prejudice against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim visitors. Furthermore, the organization stated that the crackdown on support for nonviolent change helps the country to remain unaccountable to international law.

As Congress also considers legislation that would essentially criminalize support for BDS in the U.S., this piece of news just serves as a reminder we must not stay silent as we see our rights being trampled here and abroad.

Sharing this story and letting the public know just how terribly oppressive the Israeli government has been against anyone who dares to speak against its policies may help to build pressure here and abroad. Hopefully, that will prompt the international community to act accordingly, pressuring Israel to finally take peace and Palestinian freedom seriously.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen

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