The chairman of the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) was denied entry into Israel on Sunday and deported back to the UK Monday morning, just one week after Israel passed the controversial “BDS ban” law, PSC said in a statement on Monday.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel denied entry to British activist Hugh Lanning on the grounds that “the organization Mr. Lanning heads is one of the leading anti-Israel delegitimization and BDS organizations in Britain, and one of the largest in Europe,” Israel’s Interior Ministry’s immigration authority and the Ministry of Public Security and Strategic Affairs said in a joint statement.
Right-wing Israeli lawmaker and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said on Sunday night that “whoever acts against Israel should understand that the rules of the game have changed. No sane country would allow entry to key boycott activists working to harm the country’s core interests and lead to its isolation.”
The joint statement also accused Lanning of maintaining ties to leaders of the Hamas movement — the de facto ruling party of the besieged Gaza Strip — which Israel considers a terrorist organization, citing the presence of PSC members aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010, and a personal meeting between Lanning and Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza in 2012.
The Israeli Embassy in the UK released a statement after Lanning’s deportation, saying that “Israel is seeking a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians. Those who promote extremism should not be allowed to foment their hatred in Israel.”
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.
BDS has gained momentum over the years, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
PSC condemned Israel’s denial of entry to Lanning, calling the activist the “first victim” of Israel’s official BDS ban, adding that the group believed Lanning would now be officially and permanently barred from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israeli humans rights organization previously slammed the ban, saying that while the law was “not such a novelty” due to Israel’s pre-existing crackdown on foreign BDS activists, it nonetheless sent “a strong message.”
B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad highlighted earlier this month that “Israel controls not only who enters Israel, but also who enters Palestine,” hence affecting pro-Palestinian activists’ access to the occupied territory.
PSC director Ben Jamal echoed B’Tselem’s criticisms, saying that “by introducing this law, Israel is violating fundamental freedoms essential to a democracy — the right to free speech, to criticize government policies and human rights violations, the right to advocate nonviolent actions to address human rights abuses, the right of free movement and travel.”
“If Israel believes that by introducing these draconian undemocratic laws it will intimidate its critics into silence it is mistaken. The PSC will not stop raising its voice to highlight the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel itself,” Jamal said.
Jamal concluded the PSC statement by calling upon “all those who care about democratic values,” to join the group in condemnation of Lanning’s deportation “and the passing of this repressive law.”
“We call upon the British Government to make clear to Israel that it is not acceptable for it to ban entry to British citizens whose only crime is to advocate for human rights of the Palestinian people and to protest against policies that violate those rights.”
The Israeli government drew similar criticisms last month when Israeli authorities denied a work permit application for the Israel and Palestine director of international NGO Human Rights Watch on the basis that it was “not a real human rights group.”
In a letter denying a work permit for Omar Shakir dated Feb. 20, Israel’s Interior Ministry cited an opinion received from the Foreign Ministry that Human Rights Watch’s “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’”
Deputy Executive Director of Program at Human Rights Watch Iain Levine reacted to the move, saying that “this decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values.”