The first time Israeli border security officers, stopped a pro-peace activist trying to enter Israel for questioning about their political views, it might have been excused as a lapse of judgment by a low-ranking official.
But then came the second, third and fourth occurrences. Now, despite official denials, we must seriously weigh the awful possibility that this is a deliberate policy, orchestrated and condoned at the highest political level of the Israeli government with the intent to intimidate people whose pro-peace views are deemed unacceptable.
The latest to be harassed was journalist Peter Beinart, who was detained at Ben Gurion Airport this week while traveling to Israel with his family for his niece’s bat mitzvah. According to account he wrote in The Forward, Beinart was taken to a small room at the airport and asked by a security official about his association with various “objectionable” organizations.
“His definition of objectionable, however, kept changing. At one point he asked about groups that incite or provoke violence. At another he asked about groups that threaten Israeli democracy. At another he asked about groups that promote anarchy. Then he simply asked if I was connected to any organization—or involved in any activity—that he should be concerned about,” Beinart wrote.
Last week, the target was peace activist Simone Zimmerman. Among the questions she was asked:“Why did you come here to work with Palestinians. Why not Jews? Who do you protest with? What are their names? Have you ever participated in violent protests? What do you think of Benjamin Netanyahu?”
A week before that, another leftist activist, Moriel Rothman-Zecher, was detained for three hours at Ben-Gurion Airport as he entered Israel. Two weeks earlier, Meyer Koplow, a prominent American Jewish philanthropist, was questioned before leaving the country after a fact-finding tour that included talks with Palestinians.
In January, the Israeli government published a blacklist of 20 organizations whose members would be denied entry to Israel because of their support for the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization honored with the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize for assisting and rescuing victims of the Nazis, was among the group banned.
Then there was the scary incident of conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun of Moriah Congregation in Haifa who was rousted from his bed at 5:30 am last month and taken to a police station to be questioned about the “crime” of performing non-orthodox Jewish marriages in Israel.
For me, these incidents are coming closer to home. Zimmerman was an activist in J Street U, the campus arm of the organization where I work as Special Adviser to the President, Jeremy Ben-Ami. During her time at J Street, I got to know her quite well. Rothman-Zecher was the first president of J Street U. Beinart, too, is a close friend of the organization who has spoken at our conferences many times.
As a dual citizen with an Israeli passport and with many friends and close family in Israel, including my 91-year-old mother and my only sister, I travel back and forth, usually about twice a year. It never occurred to me that I could be stopped and questioned about my political beliefs. Now, it seems all too possible.
Something very ugly and sinister is happening to Israeli society – something I had never believed I would see in this country I love. Views contrary to those espoused by the government and the settler movement are being delegitimized and denounced as treasonous. Holding those views is deemed a potential security threat to the state, worthy of the interest and involvement of the Shin Beth.
My next trip is coming up soon. My wife and I are coming to spend Rosh Hashana with our family. I want to make this easy for the security authorities, so let me be upfront:
I support a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians which I regard as the only way to end the conflict and to assure Israel’s future as a democracy and a homeland for the Jewish people.I oppose the settlements, which I regard as a tremendous obstacle to peace.
I regard the policies being followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition as tragically wrongheaded and potentially disastrous both for Israel’s democracy and for the state of its moral soul.
Just to make it easy for the Shin Beth should they be interested in a conversation, I will be arriving on Sept. 7 on a Brussels Air flight, which is due to land at Ben Gurion at 3.05 pm.