In first, Knesset bars MKs from traveling on pro-boycott groups’ dime

Yousef Jabarin vows to appeal after he is prevented from flying to US under auspices of Jewish Voice for Peace; Hanin Zoabi’s trip to Ireland also blocked

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Yousef Jabareen attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset’s Ethics Committee has for the first time banned two lawmakers from receiving funding for traveling abroad, under a motion approved in January that prohibits lawmakers from taking flights paid for by organizations supporting a boycott against Israel.

One of the lawmakers, Yousef Jabarin, said he intends to appeal the decision with the High Court of Justice, taking the controversial matter to Israel’s top court.

The January amendment, which was approved by the Internal Affairs Committee and came into effect immediately, was based on a blacklist of boycott-supporting organizations compiled by the Strategic Affairs Ministry and published earlier that month.

Jabarin and MK Hanin Zoabi, both Arab Israeli members of the Joint List party, on Tuesday saw their request to accept the funding for a series of lectures denied, according to reports.

Jabarin intended to fly to the United States with funding from the US organization Jewish Voice for Peace, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that encourages artists, companies and individuals to cut ties with Israel and refrain from visiting it or purchasing its products over what it views as mistreatment of Palestinians.

Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset on December 22, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zoabi planned to attend a conference in Ireland with funding from a local BDS-backing group, the reports said, presumably referring to the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), the only Irish group included in the Israeli blacklist.

The Ethics Committee wrote in its decision on Jabarin that “the organization pledging to invite you and fund your trip it included in a list of organizations prepared by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, on the topic of ‘main boycott groups consistently and continuously taking action against the State of Israel, while pressuring groups, institutions and states to boycott Israel.'”

Committee members said they had consulted with the Strategic Affairs Ministry and were told JVP was considered “one of the leading boycott organizations nowadays in the US.” They also noted that the group had hosted “as one of its keynote speakers” Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman who was convicted by Israel of involvement in a 1969 bombing in Jerusalem that killed two people and injured nine.

“After considering the matter and examining the information laid before it, the committee has decided not to approve your trip with funding from that group,” the committee concluded.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) praised the decision and said, “It is unacceptable for a Knesset member in Israel to lend a hand to the boycott organizations.”

Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan at a Likud party conference in Lod, on December 31, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

But Jabarin fumed and vowed to appeal the decision.

“The travel ban is a serious blow to my freedom in my political activity as a Knesset member,” he said in a statement. “Without funding from the group inviting me I obviously won’t be able to travel to the US due to the high costs. Participating in conferences and giving speeches is a significant part of my job as an elected official, and it is unthinkable that I be prevented from doing that job.”

Jabarin added that he planned to appeal to the High Court of Justice, both specifically against the decision on his request, and in general against the “blatantly illegal” amendment to the ethics rules that authorized the committee to prohibit traveling with funding from boycott-supporting groups.

Jewish Voice for Peace action in New York, July 22, 2014. (courtesy Jewish Voice for Peace)

JVP was lambasted last year by the Anti-Defamation League, which accused the group of adopting “increasingly radical positions” and using “questionable tactics” to promote its agenda.

The ADL said JVP is engaged in “harassing LGBT groups,” citing the organization’s infiltration of the pro-Israel Jewish Queer Youth during June’s Celebrate Israel parade in New York and its support for the Chicago Dyke March’s removal of three Jewish women from its parade for carrying Jewish Pride flags.

JVP also came under fire from the ADL for its continued praise of convicted Palestinian terrorists, including its decision to host Odeh and an advertisement it published in The Forward newspaper, hailing jailed Palestinian terror mastermind and political leader Marwan Barghouti without mentioning his involvement in the murder of Israelis.

The ADL also said that JVP seeks to undermine security cooperation between the US and Israel through its “Deadly Exchange” program, which blames joint Israeli-US police training for causing “extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.”

Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.

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