Israeli officials have banned the Philadelphia-based Quaker organization the American Friends Service Committee from entry into the country.
The organization, which has worked on social justice issues for nearly 100 years, is among 20 advocacy groups on a blacklist published Sunday by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The ban follows a law passed in March to deny visas to those who support any boycott of Israel. The AFSC and most of the groups on the list have supported the BDS or “boycott, divestment, sanction,” movement, started in 2005.
— Jos Truitt (@jostruitt) January 7, 2018
The movement discourages international companies from doing business with Israel, and discourages people from buying Israeli products. It’s an attempt to put economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international laws regarding its policies with Gaza and the West Bank.
Organizers of the movement also have urged celebrities not to visit or perform in the country. Pop artist Lorde canceled her Israel concert this summer.
“Motivated by Quaker belief in the worth and dignity of all people, AFSC has supported and joined in nonviolent resistance for over 100 years,” president Joyce Ajlouny said in a statement. “We answered the call for divestment from apartheid in South Africa, and we have done the same with the call for BDS from Palestinians who have faced decades of human rights violations.”
Ajlouny said the Quaker group has a long history of economic activism dating back to the “Free Produce Movement,” a boycott of American goods produced using slave labor during the 1800s.
“This ban only feeds those who are saying that grassroots support for nonviolent social change movement is the way in which change will be brought,” said Michael Meeryman-Loetz, Middle East Program director for the AFSC. “It’s a sign of the success of BDS and to a certain extent the desperation of the government.”
The ban will create some complications for the Quaker organization, which was founded in 1917. AFSC has offices in Jerusalem and Gaza. The organization runs a youth civic engagement program for Palestinians and partners with various Israeli human rights groups.
“We’re feeling disappointment that speaking out for human rights and pushing for equality for all has resulted in a situation where some of our staff may be denied entry to the country and cut off from relationships with partners we work with in Israel and Palestine,” he said.
Rabbi Albert Gabbai, who heads Congregation Mikveh Israel in Center City, said BDS discriminates against Israel. He wouldn’t comment on individual groups blacklisted, but said the movement as a whole unfairly targets the country.
“These are people against Israel [who want] to destroy Israel. It’s not really to force Israel to do things,” Gabbai said. “What about Syria, where they killed more than a million people? Why not discriminate against North Korea? BDS as a movement is racist and discriminates against one group and one country only, and that’s very bad.”
Of the 20 groups banned, six were based in the United States and at least three have chapters in Philadelphia, including National Students for Justice in Palestine, which has a chapter at the University of Pennsylvania; Code Pink, a female-led peace organization; and Jewish Voices for Peace.
Israel’s decision to specifically ban JVP is disconcerting but not surprising, given the further erosion of democratic norms and rising anxiety about the power of BDS as a tool to demand freedom.
(more: https://t.co/7dsWAlhKF3) pic.twitter.com/MEtNi9aTx0
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) January 7, 2018
Marta Guttenberg, who is on the steering committee for the Philadelphia Chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, said several of the 50 or so volunteer members have family in Israel and visit frequently. While she said the ban was discouraging, she’s unsure how it will be enforced.
“We’re an all-volunteer chapter, we’re pretty much all-volunteer nationally,” Guttenberg said. “So it’s not going to be that easy for the Israeli equivalent of the TSA to figure out who actually is a member and hold them.”
She said she was pleased to be on the same blacklist with the AFSC, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for helping World War II refugees, many of them Jews.
“We are trying to speak against a totalitarian system that silences people for speaking up in a nonviolent way,” she said.