09 August '16..
This week, the cabinet decided to establish an inter-ministerial task force charged with locating tourists who come to Israel to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and other forms of delegitimization. The decision comes after a considerable period in which various groups have sent radical members to Israel, disguised as tourists, to document "human rights violations" and contribute to the anti-Israel campaign.
Political tourism is nothing new. These are anti-Israeli organizations that exploit Israeli democracy to promote an international campaign of delegitimization. The most blatant example is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, a project founded in 2002 by the World Council of Churches that has an annual budget of $1.5 million. Its goal is to bring volunteers to Israel to "experience life under occupation and change the international community's involvement in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict."
EAPPI sends volunteers from dozens of countries to Israel for three months, after they undergo training in their home countries that includes explanations, methods of dealing with the military, and a briefing on how to enter Israel. Upon arrival, they are briefed again and then head out to the field clad in brown vests that bear the program's logo. They deploy at checkpoints and flash points, and even in the Old City of Jerusalem, and, in a very one-sided manner, document Israel's supposed "violations." One of their finest hours was when they documented Israeli security forces at the Western Wall.
At the end of three months, many of the activists return to their home countries to promote various anti-Israel campaigns at the express instruction of the program directors. Many of the volunteers put out messages that carry the extra weight of "we were there, so we know how to operate against the 'Zionist entity.'"
Another example is the International Solidarity Movement, which opposes Israel's existence and supports violent "resistance." Its volunteers also undergo briefings in their home countries, enter Israel as tourists, and take part in anti-Israeli provocations. In the U.S., one ISM volunteer was convicted of aiding Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization. The suicide bombers who carried out the 2003 attack at the Tel Aviv bar Mike's Place, in which three people were killed and 50 were wounded, spent time hanging out with ISM members. A simple internet search of ISM will turn up pictures of members carrying AK-47 assault weapons.
The NGO Monitor research institute recently issued an investigative report revealing that a number of anti-Israel organizations carry humanitarian visas issued by the Israeli government. One of these is the Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee, among the leaders of the BDS movement in the U.S., which has openly declared that its goal is to boycott Israel and encourage Israelis to become conscientious objectors. The group has an office in Jerusalem, and it even transfers funds to organizations registered in Israel that work toward the same purpose.
Every sovereign state has the full prerogative to decide who enters it. Europe decides which refugees will return to their countries of origin, and only a few days ago Australia deported refugees and tourists who were filmed speaking out against the country. That's how it should be in Israel, especially in light of the many threats we face and the exploitation of humanitarian frameworks for political purposes.
The government gambit on humanitarian visas will have a number of ramifications. First, a line will be drawn over the absurdity of people who seek to hurt Israel being able to enjoy its hospitality. Second, it will create deterrence. Just as any tourist knows that provoking the security forces in Japan or the U.S. will get him or her kicked out of the country, anti-Israel activists need to understand that their activity carries a price. Third, striking the core activity of groups that promote nothing other than hatred and anti-Semitism will significantly reduce their influence abroad.
Lest there be any doubt, the World Council of Churches doesn't operate an envoy program anywhere in the world but Israel. It, and organizations like it, use the flimsy excuse that they cannot operate in non-democratic countries and closed societies. Of course not. Why put themselves at risk in Syria when they can demonstrate in Bil'in in the morning and drink beer in Tel Aviv later that night?
Itai Reuveni is a senior researcher at NGO Monitor's Israel desk.
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