A bill seeking to bar activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering Israel passed a vote in the Knesset committee stage Monday, receiving the go-ahead to progress through the legislative process.
The proposal, which has received government support, would deny entry to individuals calling for a boycott of Israel or representing an NGO that does, but would allow the interior minister to make exceptions.
The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee passed the bill by 8-5 votes after a mainly even-tempered debate, interrupted only by Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka who was ejected for shouting during the discussion. The outburst, ostensibly a protest over the lack of a clause specifically denoting Jewish activists as possible BDS supporters, appeared to be an attempt to grab headlines, coming just as television cameras entered the committee room.
Speaking during the committee session, Meretz MK Michal Rozin said the law was “completely unnecessary” and would, like other measures passed against left-wing NGOs, draw sharp criticism of Israel from abroad.
“The interior minister already has the ability to stop anti-Israel groups coming into the country. All this law does is take away his ability to make considered decisions,” she said. “It does nothing productive and will make us look bad.”
Under the current law, the interior minister already has the right to bar individuals from entering Israel. The proposed bill would entail creating a list of individuals and organizations deemed anti-Israel and would give the minister the ability to make exemptions to allow those listed into the country.
The Jewish Home party’s Bezalel Smotrich, a firebrand MK known for controversial statements against left-wing politicians and Arabs, hit back at the criticism, saying: “It’s a shame that you [opposition MKs] are always siding with the enemies of Israel.”
The proposal was first introduced by former Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal, and supported by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on condition that the lawmakers wait for a government bill to be submitted to the Knesset on the matter. With Magal having quit the Knesset amid allegations of sexual harassment, fellow party lawmaker Smotrich — who also endorsed the bill — is leading the efforts to pass it.
It will now proceed to a first vote in the Knesset plenum after which, if it passes as expected, it will return to the committee for further deliberation.
The bill follows the recent passing of the “NGO Law,” seen as targeting Israeli left-wing groups by obligating certain nonprofits to declare all their foreign funding.
That law — approved by Knesset in June — mandates that non-government organizations that receive more than half their funds from foreign governments or state agencies disclose that fact in any public reports, advocacy literature and interactions with government officials, or face a NIS 29,000 fine ($7,500).
The government has defended the NGO Law as a way to increase transparency of foreign government intervention in Israeli affairs, but it has been widely pilloried by critics in Israel and abroad who see it as targeting leftist groups and clamping down on free speech.
Supporters of the law, including one of its authors, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said Monday that it was intended to create public awareness about large-scale foreign governmental intervention in Israel’s domestic politics. The law’s authors charge that advocacy groups funded by foreign governments “represent in Israel, in a non-transparent manner, the outside interests of foreign states.”