The Shin Bet security service has denied entry into Israel to some 250 people since the beginning of the year, citing reasons such as involvement in terror or fears they would engage in spying while in the country, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.
The issue received prominent attention after Jewish-American journalist and Israeli government critic Peter Beinart said he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah earlier this week.
Most of those who were stopped “were Muslims, or were in the process of becoming Muslims,” and arrived from Arab countries, Europe and Africa, the report said. Some were Christians. They were turned away when they arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport, the Taba crossing from Egypt or the Allenby bridge crossing from Jordan.
According to July statistics published by the Tourism Ministry, a record number of tourists visited Israel in the first half of 2018. Some 2.1 million tourist entries were recorded between January and June, the most for any half-year period.
The findings, compiled by the Central Bureau of Statistics, reveal some 1.8 million tourists entered Israel by air — including 63,000 via Ovda Airport near Eilat — 73% more than last year. About 243,000 arrived through land crossings.
The Kan report did not specify if those turned away were attempting to enter Israel on tourist visas.
Those denied entry were reportedly questioned by the representatives from the Shin Bet’s Arabic division. Reasons given for their ban included involvement in terror, espionage, or political subversion.
On Tuesday Haaretz reported that Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber’s office said in a letter earlier this month that it will look into the incidents of Israel-critics being questioned and ask the Shin Bet for clarification. Zilber’s office was responding to a request to probe the matter from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an NGO.
Beinart, a frequent critic of Israel’s policies, said he arrived Sunday with his wife and two children to attend his niece’s bat mitzvah celebration, and that security officers at the airport flagged him for extra screening.
He was taken for questioning, where an official repeatedly asked him whether he was involved in organizations that could provoke violence, promote anarchy, or threaten Israeli democracy.
The interrogator also asked about a pro-Palestinian protest Beinart attended in Hebron during his last visit, according to the piece.
Beinart, a supporter of settlement boycotts, said he was never asked about that issue, and was not offered a legal basis for the detention.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Beinart’s detainment, calling it an “administrative mistake,” and a number of left-wing Israeli figures called for an investigation into Israel’s apparent new policy of blacklisting liberal US Jews.
Beinart rejected Netanyahu’s apology, saying Palestinians endure “far worse” on a daily basis.
Also Tuesday, a prominent Iranian-American author said he was questioned and threatened by the Shin Bet two weeks ago when entering Israel from Jordan with his family.
In a series of Twitter posts, Reza Aslan likened the interrogation to those in “police states” and said he decided to share the experience after Beinart disclosed his own detention.
Aslan claimed interrogators threatened to keep him detained in the country while sending his family away and accused him of hating Israel and denying its right to exist.
The Shin Bet later said in a statement that Aslan’s claims were “unfounded.”
Others who have said they were recently held up include Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
In early July, the Jewish pro-boycott activist Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel. A law passed last year allows Israel to bar supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.