I’m Blacklisted and Banned From Israel, But for Many Others This is Nothing New
In Naftali Bennett’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times, he argues that Israel’s ban on entry of foreign BDS supporters is not only reasonable, logical, and necessary, but even compares it to the United States’ I-94W ban on the entry of Nazi collaborators. I am a Jewish student. I study at the preeminent institution of the academic study of Judaism in America, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. And yet somehow, in the eyes of the state of Israel, due to my membership in Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS movement, I am no better than a Nazi collaborator.
I am akin to a Nazi collaborator because I support a non-violent call to boycott, divest from, and sanction a state that continues to perpetrate crimes against a people under military occupation and refuses to allow its refugees to return to their homes. This rhetoric is nothing new, in fact it’s not a rare occurrence for pro-BDS Jews to be compared to Kapos — our supposed Holocaust equivalent — and has happened before at Columbia.
I want to be very clear that a thriving democracy does not ban supporters of a non-violent boycott movement from entry into their country. The United States recognizes this in the First Amendment, and, as ruled in the 1982 Supreme Court case, “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Claiborne Hardware Co.,” peaceful advocacy of a politically motivated boycott is a democratic right of the people and responsibility for the government to uphold.
I was recently blacklisted as a BDS activist — doxxed by a right-wing pro-Israel website called Canary Mission that claims to be fighting racism. Instead, they compile dossiers on activists fighting for Palestinian human rights, listing the names, social media profiles, photos, and more of students like myself in a twisted attempt to intimidate us away from our activism. This type of reactionary politics reflects the truth of the situation in Israel and Palestine. The truth is that Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu and every other supporter of BDS-bans in the US and in Israel are afraid — afraid of the truth, afraid of the power of nonviolent boycott, and most of all, afraid of a mutiny.
Israel has never shied away from barring entry to people it considers a threat. The only new development here is that the so-called Jewish State will no longer welcome Jews who dare to question its foundational ideology. Since the founding of the State of Israel, discriminatory laws have been passed preventing people seen as a threat to the state — often racialized and limited to only non-Jewish Palestinians — from entering the country. These laws continue to this day, and are exemplified as racist in Israel’s recent plan to forcibly deport thousands of asylum seekers from countries such as Eritrea and Sudan — deportations that will likely deliver many people to their deaths.
The only difference here is that I, a white Jew, have been welcomed by the State of Israel since its founding in 1948. In fact, I lived in Israel for a year before coming to study at JTS and Columbia. But for seventy years, this exact same anti-democratic principle has applied to non-white, non-Jewish people, many of whom are direct descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled with the founding of the State.
At the beginning of this piece, I drew attention to the fact that I am a Jewish student, attending the Jewish Theological Seminary. Clearly, my voice carries weight around this issue, and my travel ban appears especially egregious, because I am Jewish. But consider this: Would my voice of protest be as easily heard if I was not Jewish, if, for example, I was a Palestinian student? If folks are outraged that people like me may now be banned from Israel, they should be outraged that my Palestinian friends on campus, and their families, have been barred from visiting, much less returning to, their homeland for generations.
This ban is being recognized now since it finally affects Jews — the very people privileged in Israel over Palestinians. But it will not stop Jewish youth like me from continuing to fight for justice in solidarity with Palestinian voices calling for BDS. The movement for justice in Palestine will only be strengthened by actions such as Naftali Bennett’s. Let us use this BDS ban as a way to look back and recognize our past selective blindness; let us move forward to a movement dedicated to the struggle for democratic rights for Palestinians, Jews and all people living in Israel/Palestine.