Netnayahu at a long table with other members of the cabinet
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Dec. 25, 2016. (Photo/JTA-Dan Balilty-AFP-Getty Images)

Israel’s new anti-BDS law is overkill

Israel’s new entry law is anti-democratic and should be rescinded.

As the insidious movement supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel has gathered steam, this newspaper took a stand: We repeatedly declared our unequivocal opposition to BDS.

Now we declare with equal fervor our opposition to a bill passed earlier this week in Israel’s Knesset that forbids entry into the country to any foreigner who supports BDS.

To put it simply, this new law constitutes anti-democratic thought control.

That’s not just our opinion. In addition to left-leaning organizations such as J Street and the New Israel Fund, the staunchly Zionist American Jewish Committee declared in a statement that this new law will not “help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East.”

To be clear, the law was overkill from the get-go. Israeli policy, like that of other nations, already permitted border and passport controls to deny entry to individuals deemed a legitimate security threat.

This new law is not that.

Many diaspora Jews support selective forms of boycott, refusing to buy Israeli products originating in West Bank Jewish settlements or, indeed, visiting those areas. Some of these Jews are Zionists. Some are rabbis, such as Rabbi David Cooper, who contributed an op-ed in this week’s J. concerned whether he will be permitted to enter Israel on one of his upcoming visits. His fear would be ludicrous were it not plausible, particularly in the wake of former S.F.-based Federation CEO Jennifer Gorovitz’s detainment at Israeli border control late last month by overzealous security officers.

Debate over the wisdom of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank is part of the global Jewish conversation. Lumping in this mainstream, if heated, political discourse with a global campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel is a colossal mistake. It would throw out baby Moses with the bathwater.

As Knesset member Tamar Zandberg wrote earlier this week, BDS is an intellectually impoverished idea because it is laughably black-or-white and wields too broad a brush in condemning Israel. The new entry law, she argues, echoes that same simplistic thinking.

These are dangerous times. The sort of political polarization we are seeing in the United States is playing out in Israel as well. This fraying of democracy is deplorable and must be reversed. Israeli society is strong enough to handle dissent.

We repeat our longstanding condemnation of BDS. But in the interests of democracy, debate and dialogue, we condemn this misguided new law. Israel should rescind it immediately.

J. Staff