Israel apologizes to New Israel Fund VP over airport questioning

Jennifer Gorovitz was interrogated Wednesday by immigration officials over group’s funding for left-wing Israeli NGOs

Jennifer Gorovitz, Vice President of Finance of the New Israel Fund and former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco (YouTube screenshot)
Jennifer Gorovitz, Vice President of Finance of the New Israel Fund and former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco (YouTube screenshot)

Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority apologized Thursday to a Jewish-American executive of the New Israel Fund, after she was detained for questioning for some 90 minutes upon her arrival in Israel, the Haaretz daily reported.

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, in what NIF alleges was for political reasons.

Amnon Shmueli, the interim director general of the Population and Immigration Authority, spoke with New Israel Fund President Talia Sasson on Thursday in order to clear the air over the incident.

“Shmueli made it clear that the questioning of Gorovitz was routine and that there was no intent to insult her. The director general apologized if she was caused any anguish,” Haaretz quoted the Population and Immigration Authority as saying.

Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also on Thursday, opposition MK Tamar Zandberg asked Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) in a letter to examine the incident, which she labelled “political persecution, harassment and an attempt to silence those who fight for Israeli society.”

“I would like to know why Gorovitz was detained, and if there is a special procedure relating to members of human rights and civil society organizations,” Zandberg’s letter said, according to Haaretz.

On Wednesday, Gorovitz told Haaretz 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, in which she said she was a “Jew and a Zionist,” the interviewer responded sarcastically: “Yes, sure, you’re a Zionist.”

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority told Haaretz “that the issue of BDS was not mentioned and was not the reason for her questioning,” while adding “it’s not clear where some of the inaccurate facts in the article were gleaned.”

Gorovitz was released after pressure by NIF-affiliated individuals, including a lawyer and 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.

Talia Sasson (photo credit: CC-BY-ND Ralph Alswang/Flickr)
New Israel Fund president Talia Sasson. (CC-BY-ND Ralph Alswang/Flickr)

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.”

New Israel Fund UK board member David Burnstein was also detained and questioned at Ben Gurion Airport last September for two hours before being able to enter the country.

“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, which is headquartered in New York.

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