A senior Jewish-American executive of the New Israel Fund, which helps fund many left-wing organizations working in Israel and the West Bank, was delayed for questioning by immigration officials upon arrival in Israel on Wednesday in what the group claims was for political reasons.
Jennifer Gorovitz, the vice president for finance, operations, and administration at NIF, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on Wednesday and said that, upon identifying herself as a staff member of the organization, she was taken in for interrogation three separate times, delaying her release for some 90 minutes.
She told the Haaretz daily that during questioning, she was asked about NIF’s activities and its funding of Israeli NGOs, and that during one interrogation, she noticed the word BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) in a document her interviewer was holding which seemed to contain a large amount of information about her and about the organization.
“She asked me what the New Israel Fund does and I told her we finance organizations in civil society in Israel and that we object to BDS,” Gorovitz told Haaretz.
She said that during another interview, during which she said she was a “Jew and a Zionist,” the interviewer responded sarcastically: “Yes, sure, you’re a Zionist.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority confirmed that Gorovitz was held “after raising the suspicions of border control.”
“She was taken in for brief questioning and released. She was delayed for about an hour, altogether. It’s not clear where some of the inaccurate facts in the article were gleaned, in light of the fact that the issue of BDS was not mentioned and was not the reason for her questioning,” the spokesperson told Haaretz.
Gorovitz was released after pressure by NIF-affiliated individuals, including a lawyer, and NIF board president and former Israeli state attorney Talia Sasson, who said she was told Gorovitz was being detained for “national security reasons,” according to a press release on the incident issued by the NIF.
Sasson told Haaretz the incident was “a serious act aimed at intimidating a social activist because of her activities for Israel and Israeli society. The Israeli government, headed by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, has been persecuting Israeli human rights activists for some time now. Now this policy is being directed at diaspora Jews as well.”
“It was humiliating and emotionally scarring to find that, although I am a Jew and a Zionist, I might not be allowed into the country because I do not adhere to the government’s ultra right-wing ideology,” said Gorovitz in the statement. “I was truly shocked that this place I love so much would turn me away at its gates.”
Gorovitz joined the NIF in 2015, having previously served as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation. She was in Israel to participate in an NIF executive meeting.
“Jenn Gorovitz has dedicated her life to promoting the best of Israeli society,” said Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund. “She is precisely the kind of person Israel should be proud to host as a guest. This shows that the ultra right-wing government is shamelessly using a political litmus test to decide who can enter the country and who cannot. We will not accept an Israel that is for ultra-nationalists only.”
Israel last year passed a law mandating that NGOs 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 fine. Nearly all the roughly two-dozen existing Israeli organizations affected by the rules belong to the left, including human rights watchdog B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Zochrot. Many of these groups are partly funded by the New Israel Fund.
Earlier Wednesday, the Netanyahu government indicated it would lodge a formal complaint after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met with the heads of two prominent left-wing organizations — despite a personal request from Netanyahu to stop supporting Israeli groups he considers damaging to the country.
“The government of Belgium needs to decide if it wants to change direction or continue with its anti-Israel path,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said, noting that the Belgian ambassador would be summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday for a dressing down.
Michel, who is on an official visit to the country, met with the leaders of two prominent left-wing organizations: Breaking the Silence; and B’Tselem.
“Israel views with utmost gravity Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel’s meeting today with the leaders of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, during his visit to Israel. Initiatives are underway by the Belgian state prosecutor to try senior Israelis including Tzipi Livni and IDF officers,” the statement said.
Breaking the Silence is a controversial rights outfit that collects testimonies from former Israel Defense Forces soldiers about alleged human rights violations they witness in the Palestinian territories during their military service.
The meeting came the day after Michel held talks with Netanyahu in which he was asked not to fund organizations that Netanyahu described as anti-Israel or harmful to Israeli soldiers.
Breaking the Silence has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass and its numerous critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.
Last month a bill that would prevent Breaking the Silence from holding events in high schools passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset.
Amid intense public debate over the legitimacy of left-wing NGOs operating in Israel, the proposed legislation is primarily directed at the Breaking the Silence organization, but would give the education minister the power to ban all groups “that work to damage the IDF” from entering any academic institutions.