Anti-Boycott Law Denies London BDS Activist Entry to Israel
London Palestinian Solidarity Campaign Chairman Hugh Lanning says these laws are exposing the anti-democratic nature of the state
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
So, last week the Israeli Knesset passed a law banning entry to supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, otherwise known as BDS, which we’ve covered here with our Real News Correspondent, Shir Hever.
SHIR HEVER: It is in fact a blanket ban, and in fact it goes way beyond the BDS movement, because they’re saying anyone who calls for a boycott of products or companies within the territory under Israel’s control. And there are a lot of people, especially in Europe who don’t want to boycott all Israeli goods, but they say, well, we cannot support the Occupation directly, so we don’t want to buy goods coming from the illegal colonies. Those we boycott, so those would also be banned.
KIM BROWN: So, already we have the first case of someone whose entry was denied in Israel. By Order of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, and in line with the new law, Hugh Lanning was detained in the airport and was forced to board a flight back to London.
The reason for his entry being denied to Israel was his support or his alleged support for BDS. In other words, he was denied entry into the country because of his political opinions, and Hugh Lanning joins us here today. He is the Chairman of the London Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, or PSC. He is a former trade union official. He was the Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, one of Britain’s largest trade unions, until May of 2013. He joins us today from Dover, England. Hugh, thank you so much for being here.
HUGH LANNING: Thank you. Nice to have the opportunity to talk to you, on a nice spring evening here.
KIM BROWN: Absolutely. So, first Hugh, let’s start by hearing what actually happened to you at the airport. So, give us an overview of how you were received and how you were severely treated.
HUGH LANNING: Well, I’ve been many times before and never had any problems on entry and so, when you arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, there’s a standard queue for foreign passport holders to go through. You go up to a little booth, which I did. It was a bit slow. And then they ask the standard questions: the purpose of your visit? Where are you staying? How long are you staying for? And so on, and scan your passport.
And at that point, when they scanned the passport, a supervisor was called over and I was escorted to their holding area where they do questions and so on for people they want to check up on. And then there followed eight hours of waiting and questioning and so on, you know, to about 11:00 o’clock I think it was, in the evening, at night, when they finally made their decision. Yeah.
KIM BROWN: So, you were detained and questioned for about eight hours. So, what kind of references did the Israeli police make about your activism? I mean, did they quote your materials to you? Did they mention specific articles that you wrote? How did they know that you support BDS?
HUGH LANNING: Well, I mean my visits and my role as Chair have always been public. It did feel like a bit of a test, that they were testing to see if I would lie or dispute anything that was in the public domain, so that you get questioned about what your role was in the UK. Was I politically active? I said, “Yes, I chair the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. I ran for Parliament. I was a trade union official.” And then they showed me my Wikipedia entry. And I said, “Well, I don’t read myself on social media. It looks like it’s about me, but I don’t know if it’s true or not,” and similarly, on other things.
They showed me where I’d been on previous visits. And then they showed me a photo of me at a press conference in Gaza. And I said, “Yes, that’s me.” So, it was almost like at every stage they were trying to trip you up really and get you to lie about something that you’d done. And I didn’t.
KIM BROWN: Well, by your account you were truthful about your actions and truthful about your activities both in Gaza and in the UK. And yet you were still sent back to London. So, it doesn’t seem as though the truth was able to help you remain in the country on this particular visit.
HUGH LANNING: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting. At one point the senior duty immigration manager, he said he apologized, sort of, for the delay. It has been an hour or so wait since the last questioning from him. And he said there’s a lot of phone calls going on and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior Affairs are involved.
And so obviously they were having a discussion while we were there about what they were going to do and how they were going to frame it. And each time I had a question, he sort of went up the chain. So, I started with the routine person, then to the manager, then to their manager and so on. So, it was a political decision they were taking, to do it or not. And they obviously in the end decided to go for it.
KIM BROWN: So, this new law banning the entry of BDS supporters into Israel has come under a great deal of criticism outside, but also inside of Israel for being relatively stupid and ineffective. So, do you think that such actions against you was an effective way to convince you or other BDS supporters to abandon the Boycott, Divest(ment and) Sanctions movement?
HUGH LANNING: I think it will have the reverse effect. I mean, every time they try and do some heavy-handed tactic against critics, it proves the point really, that they’re not operating as a democracy. That if you are a true open democracy, just the physical presence of someone like me, who’s a public democratic critic of them, shouldn’t be a threat.
If they can’t allow people like me in, I think it could be half the planet they can’t let in, you know? I was always described as the moderate right-winger in my trade union days. So, they’re hardly setting the bar very high about who they’re going to let in. But I think they undermine their claim to be a democracy. You know, you should be able to withstand having people who are critics in your country as long as they are obeying the law.
KIM BROWN: So why do you think that the law was legislated and passed in the first place, if it doesn’t really discourage BDS activists and activism?
HUGH LANNING: Well, there clearly was a push from the right wing within Israeli politics, which are very dominant at the moment, and the Settler Movement and so on. But there is a global attempt to demonize BDS as being inherently anti-Semitic, and that anyone who supports Palestine and criticizes Israel should be silenced and should be criticized as being anti-Semitic. And they’re trying to silence opposition.
Actually what we’re finding, as the solidarity movement in the U.K., that we keep on growing and getting more support. So, it’s not having the desired effect. And I think it’s good that there’s a debate in Israel, because their current tactics are counter-productive.
KIM BROWN: So, Hugh, I’m curious as to how you were treated compared to other detainees at the airport, or whether or not you were transported to another location. So, can you tell us about that experience? Aside from being questioned and detained for eight hours, how did you see other people being handled by the Israeli security?
HUGH LANNING: Well, I think you were just aware that I was being talked to by more senior people who were being polite and nice to you rather than, if you like, the routine immigration and security officers. Some of the Eastern European, Russian and others, they were being manhandled as they were coming in and out.
I spoke, I know, to a Muslim who was trying to go in, and he was threatened with detention, being put into prison, being handcuffed and treated as a terrorist. So, you know, it was almost they judged you visibly about how they were going to treat you. And obviously there were quite a few Palestinians there who were treated in the way they normally treat Palestinians. So, it was interesting to watch, because in a way, I think I was the one who was treated best, probably, while I was there.
It was still, you know, interesting; you had a lot of waiting. They weren’t really very informative. You weren’t quite sure. And when it finished at the end, in the evening, I was taken somewhere to get some food and refreshments, and then shown to one of their sort of reception processing areas, where there were some padded benches on the wall where they said I could try and sleep.
But I was accompanied all the time; there was somebody watching while you were trying to sleep. And then you have to get permission to go to the loo and you were accompanied to the toilet. And then when you were shown onto the plane, I suppose in a way I can recommend it, because there were all these VIPs and old people and people with babies, and they were pushed to one side, while I was escorted onto the plane first and put onto my place.
But there was another, I suppose, little… I think it was about the only time I got a little bit cross backwards, and it was that they’d said I’d get my passport and boarding ticket back when I got on the plane, and in fact they said they were going to give it to the British Airways staff to hold until I got to London.
And at that point, I said, “They’ve got no right to hold my passport. They’re just citizens and I’m going to be on the plane.” And my little joke didn’t work. I said, “You know, do you think I’m James Bond — that I’m going to leap out of the plane and parachute back into Israel?” And the BA staff laughed but the security staff didn’t. But it was a long night.
KIM BROWN: I can imagine. And finally, Hugh, I mean, tell us and tell our viewers what convinced you to support the BDS movement in the first place?
HUGH LANNING: Going to Palestine and seeing what you see. You know, you see the wall; you see the Settlements; you see the Palestinians having to go through the checkpoints; you meet them — they’re lovely people and they’ve done nothing wrong. You know, they’ve lived there for generations and generations and they’re having their land taken away from them and their freedom taken away from them. And if you see it — I think that’s one of the reasons why they don’t want people to go. People who do go and see it, and witness it, come back and talk about what they’ve seen and multiply support for Palestine and criticism of Israel.
And I think that’s why they’re trying to close their borders to critics because they come home and multiply. And that’s what happened to me and I came back convinced it’s one of the major injustices of the world, and that we in the U.K. played a part in making it happen. And we ought to play a part in stopping it happening.
KIM BROWN: Well, we’ve been speaking with Hugh Lanning. He is the Chairman of the London Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. He’s also a former trade union official, Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Service Union.
And he was denied entry into Israel, after the passage of a new law by the Knesset that will deny entry of foreigners who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Hugh, we really appreciate you joining us and telling your story. Thank you so much.
HUGH LANNING: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching and supporting The Real News Network.