(JTA) – The Association for Israel Studies harshly criticized Israel’s new ban on entry to supporters of boycotts, calling the law anti-democratic and warning that it would prevent academic exchange with the Jewish state.
The association, a professional grouping of academics who focus on Israel, said in a statement Friday that the law could turn Israel into an “isolated entity open only to those who ascribe to official policy.” That in turn could create a “chilling effect” on students and scholars who want to come to Israel to study and conduct research, and will prevent the association from holding conferences in Israel – a situation the statement called an “absurdity.”
The law, adopted last Monday by the Knesset, bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. It has drawn mounting criticism from American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Reform and Reconstructionist movements.
According to the law, the ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge limiting boycotts to areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.
The association’s statement noted that the group opposes discrimination against Israeli academics and institutions. But it said that the new law would not hurt boycott efforts because it cannot prevent the spread of ideas.
“There can be no checkpoint of ideas,” the statement said. “Security forces and defenses are essential for deterring actual attacks. But it is fantasy and misleading to think that interrogating academics at the country’s gates contributes to national security. Ideas, good and bad, have no borders and can be spread by modern communications and social media.”
Some backers of the law say it will be used only against those active in organizations that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and would not block an individual for something she or he might once have said.