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We Should Welcome BDS Supporters Into Israel So They Can See How Wrong They Are

Sara McCleary

Several news sites are reporting this week that a UK proponent of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been blocked from entering Israel, in keeping with a recently-passed bill that allows border officials to deny entry to foreign nationals who support a boycott of Israel.

The bill, whose final wording was approved by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, says that the ban applies to anyone “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 will be possible for the interior minister to grant exceptions when he feels they are warranted.

I can understand the reason for passing such a bill. The BDS movement is widely – and rightly – criticized as unfair and motivated by deep-seated antisemitism. It’s difficult to believe that anyone who supports such a movement would have wholesome motives for seeking entry to Israel. As Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, said, “No sane country would allow entry to key boycott activists working to harm the country’s core interests and lead to its isolation.”

Looking at it from that Erdan’s perspective, I can see why it makes sense to deny BDS advocates entry.

However, the words of Member of Knesset Betzalel Smotrich bring to light the various issues with the bill. In supporting the bill, Smotrich said, “What does this law say, after all? A healthy person who loves those who love him and hates those who hate him doesn’t turn the other cheek.”

I’m not sure, though, if that’s the best approach to confronting BDS.

I’m all for showing strength and making voices heard, but it seems that a better approach to discouraging the spread of the BDS movement is to give its supporters a reason to stop. This law has invited significant criticism, with many charging that Israel is attempting to intimidate its critics with draconian laws. It’s been called “a clear violation of freedom of expression” by Peace Now. The group believes that the law “will not prevent boycott but rather deteriorate Israel’s international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation.”

That last part is a fair point. If Israel wants to be seen positively in the international community, laws preventing critics from entry are not the way to do it. Rather, BDS advocates should be allowed to see the real Israel, not the one portrayed in BDS literature.

Welcome into Israel those who want to boycott all products made in Israel. Maybe if more had seen SodaStream’s employment of 500 Palestinian workers, the company wouldn’t have had to close the plant where they were working.

Welcome into Israel those who support academic boycotts of Israeli institutions so that they can see the work those researchers are doing that support everyone worldwide – Israelis, Canadians, Mexicans, Palestinians, Americans, etc. – equally.

Welcome into Israel those who believe that Israel is an apartheid state so that they can see Palestinian doctors, social workers, politicians, and salespeople living and working happily – and as equals – alongside Israelis.

By no means do I feel Israel should sit back and accept BDS and its consequences. It should fight back against those who want to isolate it, but it should do so in the right way: by showing its critics why BDS is misguided, not by preventing them from seeing that.

Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master’s degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.