Supporting BDS is enough to get detained by the cops in Israel these days
Lisa Goldman, +972 Magazine, Mar 14 2017
Israeli police picked up an Israeli man who was just standing on the street Monday. He was not doing anything illegal. Someone who lived in the neighborhood reported him on suspicion of carrying material related to BDS, and while it is not illegal in Israel to carry material about BDS, the police nevertheless answered the call. Jeff Halper, the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) was speaking to a tour group in Maaleh Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The police detained him in a place that was one of his regular stops with tour groups, he explained. He wrote in an email exchange with +972 Magazine:
I wasn’t talking about BDS or holding a sign that day, but I sometimes do and so do our other guides. So someone called the police. They should have said to the caller: ‘Thanks for letting us know, but this is a democracy and people can talk on the street (even about BDS).’ But they didn’t of course, and detained me for ‘incitement.’
Last week the Israeli Knesset approved a law barring entry to foreigners who support BDS. An earlier anti-BDS law, commonly called the Boycott Law, was passed in 2011. The 2011 law gives Israelis the right to bring civil suit against BDS advocates in cases where they can prove their livelihood has been undermined as a result. Both laws have been widely criticized for violating basic principles of freedom of speech. Both apply to boycotts not only of Israel, but also of its settlements in the West Bank. Yet it is still not against the law for Israeli citizens to support or even call on others to support BDS. They just have to bear in mind that they might be sued in civil court for their advocacy. The police did not arrest Jeff Halper on Monday, but the fact that they detained and questioned him speaks to the increasingly authoritarian climate in Israel in general, and to the profoundly distorted views on BDS specifically. Instead of simply announcing that its official position is to oppose BDS, which would be a perfectly legitimate stance, the Israeli government has instead chosen to criminalize the movement and its advocates. PM Netanyahu and members of his cabinet have used loaded language to conflate BDS with anti-Semitism, gratuitous hatred of the State of Israel, and even with violence. This discourse has spread to the Jewish diaspora, with many mainstream Jewish organizations and institutions following the Israeli government’s lead. Among Jews who are associated with the organized community, BDS has become almost axiomatically associated with anti-Semitism. There is almost no conversation about the matter. In an email exchange with +972 Magazine, Jeff Halper unpacked the incident Monday:
The fact that someone can be detained for incitement just on suspicion of speaking about BDS shows how far we’ve gone towards fascism and repression in Ayelet Shaked’s police state. The incident was minor, but the implications are scary. There is certainly a targeting of anti-occupation/ BDS activists (for the Israeli authorities they’re both the same). I know of a number of foreign activists who have been deported or not let in (like Luisa Morgentini, an Italian/European parliamentarian), laws are already in place to deny Israeli groups dealing with BDS or human rights (the same to the Israeli authorities) funding. And I expect some kind of law or regulation or sanctions (like not being able to teach or work) against BDS activists in general, or anyone critical of government policy. We’re in a new Bibi/ Ayelet/ Trump world, and it’s a slippery slope.
In his 2013 book, “The End of Jewish Modernity,” historian Enzo Traverso argues that since the 1940s, mainstream Jewish thought has been in a period of stagnation. Our discourse has become reactionary and conservative, with a deracinated and impoverished identity resting uneasily on the twin pillars of the Holocaust and Israel. One can see the evidence to support Traverso’s thesis in the current tenor of the Jewish discourse about the BDS movement. For decades, Jewish political and community leaders have conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, to the point that journalists in Pindostan are afraid to criticize Israeli policy, lest they be accused of anti-Semitism. In describing BDS, community leaders and Israeli politicians have raised the specter of a Nazi boycott of Jewish shops in Germany during they 1930s. They conflate boycott as a non-violent tool to end Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians, with the desire to destroy the state of Israel. For Jews, well primed with three generations of post-Holocaust trans-generational trauma and intellectually weakened by their educational system’s abject failure to transmit their rich, fascinating, millennia-old history and culture preceding the Holocaust, this is the result, in Israel at least (and to a much lesser extent in the diaspora): a fearful people, led by a fear-mongering and increasingly authoritarian prime minister, who have become so detached from the norms of civil society that they inform on a fellow citizen who expresses a dissident opinion. Now where have we heard of that kind of behavior before?
Police detain prominent Pindo-Israeli activist for alleged possession of BDS material
Yotam Berger, Haaretz, Mar 13 2017
Police detained Pindo-Israeli left-wing activist Jeff Halper last Wednesday at the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, for suspected incitement, saying they acted on a complaint he had “materials related to BDS” in his possession. Halper, picked up after leading a tour of foreigners to the E1 site across the road from the settlement, was transported by police van to a nearby station then released without being placed under arrest. Police officers photographed the posters and maps he was holding before freeing him. Halper denies handing out any material related to BDS during the tour, or even discussing the boycott movement. Handing out such materials would not have been in violation of the law, even a 2011 anti-boycott law according to which a person or an organization calling for the boycott of Israel, including the settlements, can be sued by the boycott’s targets without them having to prove that they sustained any damage. The law also denies a person or a company that declares a boycott of Israel or the settlements eligibility to bid for government tenders. A separate law passed this month entitles Israel to deny entry to pro-BDS activists. Halper, cofounder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told Haaretz he was on a tour with foreign visitors in the territories last Wednesday. He took the group of 15 to a lookout over Area E1, near Ma’aleh Adumim. Halper said:
It’s a good place to show them this context of where Ma’aleh Adumim is located relative to Jerusalem. It’s a regular stop on our tours, this wasn’t the first time I was taking a group to this spot.
After the tour the tourists boarded a bus headed north and he headed to catch a bus to Jerusalem:
As I ran toward a bus, I saw police in the area, and I saw them talking and contacting the group. I called the Palestinian driver (of the bus transporting the tourists) and he said he had heard a rumor that we were distributing BDS material. Suddenly the bus came to a stop in the Middle of Maaleh Adumim, after two stops, the police boarded the bus and told me, you are being detained, and they took me off the bus. They didn’t tell me why I was being detained. They said something about BDS, but no details. They put me into a van, which is unpleasant as it is. They drove me in the direction of the police station. Just when we got to the station, they stopped and asked me a few questions about what I had in my bag and whether I had any BDS material in the bag. We got out of the vehicle and they threw my maps on the van, the maps were of Jerusalem and the greater Jerusalem area. There was also something on which it was written BDS for BDS, it’s something that I use. I say that we have no solution to offer and I propose a binational democratic state, so I have the slogan that goes BDS for BDS. It’s not a sticker or flyer, but just a map with those words on it. They found it and took it, wrote up a summons or something like that, and released me.
Halper said the police refused to give him a copy of the ticket or explain what he was suspected of. In response to a query from Haaretz, the Samaria regional police said:
There is no investigation into this matter. There was information checked by a patrol once it became clear he committed no violations, he was freed.
Police spokespeople said the suspicion against him is “incitement” but he was released after questioning, and no further investigation was expected to take place.