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Israel border authorities have detained US-Palestinian student for her alleged Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activism, denying her entry into Israel, despite having a visa. Tallie Ben-Daniel of Jewish voice for Peace discusses the case and what it means for the BDS movement

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert joining you from Baltimore.

Last year, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, approved a law to ban supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, also known as the BDS campaign, from entering Israel. Not only are they prohibited from entering Israel, they also cannot visit occupied Palestinian territory. Since supporting the BDS campaign is a thoughtcrime, the question is how would Israeli authorities even know what people think when they enter Israel? It is not enough to declare at the border that one opposes BTS in order to be allowed in. But the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, under the management of Minister Gilad Erdan, must approve the entry.

Newly-released documents show that even though the Ministry of Strategic Affairs commands a vast budget and employs former intelligence officers, it mainly uses two sources to determine if people should be allowed into the country. First, it conducts a simple search using Google. Second, they rely on the website Canary Mission, which was anonymous up until a few weeks ago, but has recently been exposed as a front for pro-Israeli organizations in the United States that engage in illegal espionage activity on behalf of the Israeli government. Also, they use the Canary Mission website to delegitimize Palestinian solidarity activists, and to try to ruin their chances of holding or finding a job.

Ten days ago, young student and U.S. citizen Lara Alqasem was detained in Israel because she is suspected of supporting BDS. Her student visa was revoked, but the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said that he will consider letting her in if she issues a public apology and renounces BDS. Lara Alqasem had another hearing on Thursday, but the court is keeping her in custody and no date has been given for a verdict.

The illegal data gathering method of pro-Israeli activists in the U.S. were exposed in an Al Jazeera documentary, but snippets from the documentary have been released. Here’s one about Eric Gallagher, who is working for the Israel Project.

VIDEO: I don’t need to participate in the Republican and Democratic parties. I can build my own apparatus and have influence in Los Angeles, or Detroit. And [Adam] seems one of those guys. And he funds the Israel Project. He does a lot of great work.

Eric then made a remarkable claim when Tony asked about Canary Mission.

Who are the people who [inaudible]?

It’s him. It’s him.

Adam Milstein?

Yeah, I don’t know who he hired to oversee it-

GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to discuss Israel’s latest Antibes efforts is Tallie Ben-Daniel. She is academic advisory council coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace. Thanks for joining us today, Tallie.

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: Thank you for having me.

GREG WILPERT: So the Israeli government claims that every country has a right to determine who will enter the country, and that the U.S. also denies visas to many people who wish to enter. What would you say to this argument?

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: Well I think that’s true. And I think what is really a problem with the way that Israel is doing it is that it’s relying on information that is completely unvetted. It is completely … It is basically a simple Google search. And what Canary Mission does is it culls information from people’s social media accounts and puts it together in a way so that- in the way that they claim exposes the person as anti-Semitic or as racist. But what really happens is people who are advocating for their constitutionally-protected right to protest policies that are violating human rights are painted as terrorists or as anti-Semites. And that’s really, really damaging.

GREG WILPERT: So the BDS ban has already been used against scholars, students, and also against Jews who are suspected of being pro-BDS, though officially Israel claims to be the state of Jews worldwide. On the other hand, the BDS ban is a threat to Palestinians, as well. Palestinians such as Lara Alqasem are prime suspects in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, and this means that Palestinians in Palestine are denied the right to invite guests and family members. Who do you think this hideous ban is really intended to hurt?

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: I am not sure, but my my guess is that the BDS ban is intended to make it scary for people to be public about their criticism of the Israeli government. So it’s not going to stop people being critical. And it’s not going to stop people being activists for human rights. But what it is going to do is going to make a culture of fear around expressing yourself and around expressing your beliefs. And I think that goes against really fundamental ideas about how democracy is supposed to work.

GREG WILPERT: So what would you say to students in the U.S. or outside the U.S. who want to know more about Israel-Palestine, and to see the occupation themselves? Should they enroll in Israeli universities as exchange students? Or could they be parted at the border if they’re suspected of disloyal thoughts towards Israel?

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: It’s a great question. I think if somebody is interested in finding out more, the first thing to do is there’s many books and documentaries about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine. Join groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine. Ask your universities find out if there are classes about Israel and Palestine and take those classes. And if you want to visit, there’s many different organizations that host delegations that will allow you to see the occupied Palestinian territories and build relationships with people who are working for peace and justice in the region.

GREG WILPERT: Let’s say that Israeli intelligence actively prevents anyone who supports BDS from entering Israel. Do you think that this will actually stop or hinder the movement? And if so, how? And if not, what are they trying to achieve?

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: Yeah. No, I don’t think that this will stop the BDS movement. And if anything, I think it will make it stronger. Because part of what is happening is people are seeing the way that the Israeli government is policing what people can think and what people can believe. And that doesn’t go well. So I think that what Israel is doing- Israel has turned more and more and more to the right over the last few years. And this is just more, further evidence that they are being given permission by the Trump administration to have policies that are anti-democratic and that are more authoritarian.

And so Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is a nonviolent grassroots movement. Like all boycott movements, it calls for people to think about their own power as consumers and their own power as citizens, and to think about how to ethically make choices about the power that we do have. And it’s called for by Palestinian civil society. So it does not mean blanketly saying that we are not going to buy anything that an Israeli has ever touched, or anything like that. It means thinking really deeply about what kinds of organizations are supporting these human rights violations in occupied territories. Organizations that are in the U.S., like Caterpillar. And that as American citizens we should think really carefully about what kinds of organizations, what kinds of corporations we want to be giving our money to.

GREG WILPERT: Finally, in the case of Lara Alqasem, what do you think is going to happen to her? And what effect do you think her case will have on the BDS movement more generally?

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: It’s a great question. I mean, I think she’s a very interesting case in that she’s a student who was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at her university. It was a very, very small chapter, about five students. They had a campaign to to have the university choose a different hummus brand. They were selling Sabra hummus, which is an Israeli hummus company, and they wanted them to sell a different hummus company. So it’s this very small moment, right. The fact that the Israeli government cares what kind of hummus is served in a university makes it seem like they’re so threatened by the way that people are acting and the way that people are criticizing their policies.

So to me I’m actually finding it quite hopeful that the work that we’re doing is having a real impact on the Israeli government. I’m not sure what will happen to her. I mean, I think she’ll either be allowed back in- there’s a lot of support for her right now. There’s a lot of university professors and Jewish studies scholars and even very conservative thinkers and pundits who are who are supporting her, and supporting her right to an education. So I’m not sure what will happen to her. But I think we should think more broadly about who has the right to learn about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine, who has the right to an education, who has the right to express First Amendment rights or free speech, and think really deeply about that as as the case unfolds.

GREG WILPERT: We’re going to leave it there for now, but continue to follow the story. I was speaking to Tallie Ben-Daniel, academic advisory council coordinator for the Jewish Voice for Peace. Thanks again, Tallie, for having joined us today.

TALLIE BEN-DANIEL: Thank you again. Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.