Former Sanders adviser and Netanyahu critic detained at Israeli border

Simone Zimmerman, later allowed into country, says she was asked about her political activism; Shin Bet confirms they were stopped, says questioning related to West Bank violence

Simone Zimmerman. (Facebook)
Simone Zimmerman. (Facebook)

Simone Zimmerman, a former adviser to US Senator Bernie Sanders who was suspended after reports surfaced of her harsh and foul-mouthed criticism of Israeli policies and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was detained for questioning at a border crossing into Israel on Sunday.

Simone Zimmerman tweeted that she and her friend Abby Kirschbaum were detained for four hours at the Taba crossing from Egypt.

The Population and Immigration Authority said the two women were held by the Shin Bet, which initially refused to comment on the matter. On Monday, the Shin Bet said the two were indeed stopped at the border, and questioned on its instructions. It said the Population and Immigration Authority carried out the questioning, Haaretz reported, and that the focus of the questions for the two that it relayed to the Authority related to “their involvement in violent protest against Israeli security forces in Judea and Samaria.”

The two were later allowed into Israel. “We’re out. That was four hours of rounds of interrogation, waiting and mostly attempted intimidation centering on our connections to Palestinians,” Zimmerman tweeted.

Zimmerman said she told the authorities that she is currently living in Israel and works for an Israeli human rights organization, Gisha. She claimed she was asked: “Why did you come here to work with Palestinians? Why not with Jews?”

“We are being questioned solely about our political opinions and activities vis a vis Palestinians esp in the occupied territories,” Zimmerman tweeted.

Zimmerman said that after she was asked why she was helping people in Gaza, her questioner interrupted her answer, saying: “I want to know why you’re really here.”

The left-wing activist tweeted that she wasn’t concerned that they would be deported as there were many people advocating on their behalf. However she was concerned by what she perceived to be an attempt to stop Jews from working on behalf of Palestinians.

“The scariest part is the horrifying realization of how badly the Israeli government wants to scare Jews away from Palestinians. They are using all tactics to make the cost of knowing & working with Palestinians too risky that we don’t dare to do it at all,” she tweeted.

Said Kirschbaum: “The level of surveillance and intimidation we experienced tonight was unsettling, but it is a fraction of the lived reality for the Palestinians I know and am proud to work with.”

The Shin Bet said Monday that it did not give instructions for any questioning relating to the political stances of the two.

The Israeli side of the Taba border crossing with Egypt (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Israeli side of the Taba border crossing with Egypt (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Zimmerman was suspended from her position with Democratic presidential candidate Sanders in 2016 after reports surfaced that she called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “manipulative asshole” who sanctioned mass murder of Palestinians.

Zimmerman, a former J Street student activist, wrote on Facebook in March 2015 that “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole,” according to the Free Beacon. “Fuck you, Bibi… you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer.”

Zimmerman later revised the post, excising the profanity, according to the report, which featured screenshots of the original and edited posts.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Zimmerman was one of the leaders of a group of young Jews that held regular protest vigils outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reading the names of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the conflict.

Zimmerman opposes Israel’s policies in the West Bank, wants Hillel to allow participation by groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, is against Jewish federation funding for Israeli projects in the West Bank, and wrote favorably of the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS group, to get “international corporations to stop profiting off human rights abuses.” (The Anti-Defamation League has called JVP one of America’s top 10 anti-Israel groups.)

Zimmerman is active in IfNotNow, which was founded in the summer of 2014 to organize young Jews opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza, but has since evolved into an activist community steeped both in left-wing protest and Jewish tradition. It rails against Israel’s control of the West Bank, the incoming Trump administration and Jewish organizations it accuses of supporting both those things.

Activists from the organization recently staged livestreamed walk-outs from Birthright tours of Israel, claiming the program was “hiding the realities of the occupation.”

IfNotNow, which takes its name from “If not now, when?,” the end of a statement by Hillel, a first-century rabbi, also organized events targeting participants prior to their departure.

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