Is Israel shutting the door on skeptics?

Is Israel shutting the door on skeptics?

We support efforts to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. But the anti-BDS bill that Israel’s Knesset adopted on March 6 will neither halt nor diminish BDS activities, and will not make Israel more secure. All it will really accomplish is to make Israel a less welcoming place. And that’s a shame.

Sponsors of the bill correctly observe that the BDS movement is “a new front of war against Israel.” And they argue that the bill is a measured response to hateful BDS advocacy. But it isn’t. The bill bans from entry into Israel 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.” That complex language invites Talmudic analysis, which has no place in the complex arena of international affairs.

The ban includes those who urge limiting boycotts to areas under Israeli military — as opposed to civil — control, such as the settlements in Judea and Samaria, the area most of the world refers to as the West Bank. Yet the language appears to leave in the clear those, such as many American Jews, who have been calling for an eventual pullback from the West Bank as part of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

But the sentiment behind the bill, evidenced by the far-right parties who pushed the legislation through, has left many wondering whether Israel will now apply a political litmus test at her border, and use the new law to keep critics out.

Predictably, American Jewish groups on the left of the political spectrum denounced the law, seeing it as a measure that will stifle support for a two-state solution. They were joined by the centrist American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League. “Israel’s democracy, pluralism, open society serve as best defense against #BDS,” the ADL said on Twitter. “We are deeply invested in fighting scourge of #BDS and delegitimization,” another tweet said. “This law doesn’t help.”

And that’s precisely the point. Israel’s Western-style openness is one of the country’s most potent weapons in the international community. But the new law replaces a warm welcome with suspicion, and threatens to close Israel to the skeptical as well as the hostile. That appears to be a mistake.

Israel has always veered between not caring what the world thinks (a good trait when it comes to existential issues) and caring very much what the world thinks — often enlisting American Jews to engage in hasbara on the part of the Jewish state. That job is going to be much harder to do if large segments of the community get the uncomfortable feeling that their physical presence as visitors is neither necessary nor desired.