Journalist Peter Beinart detained and questioned at Israeli airport


(JTA) — Peter Beinart said he was detained at Ben Gurion Airport for an hour and questioned by an Israeli security official about his political activism.

Beinart, a prominent liberal Zionist journalist and commentator, was interrogated Sunday at the Tel Aviv airport, according to an op-ed he wrote in the Forward. He was visiting the country with his wife and children for a family affair.

According to the op-ed, the security official asked whether Beinart had participated in violent protests or events that promoted anarchy or opposed Israeli democracy.

The official also asked Beinart about his involvement with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, a group that organizes actions to protest Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“Then the political questions began,” Beinart wrote. “Was I involved in any organization that could provoke violence in Israel? I said no. Was I involved in any organization that threatens Israel democracy? I said no — that I support Israeli organizations that employ nonviolence to defend Israeli democracy.”

Beinart, a Forward columnist and contributing editor at The Atlantic, has been one of the leading proponents of liberal Zionism, which criticizes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, among other right-wing policies, because it says they threaten the state’s Jewish and democratic character. He opposes the movement to boycott Israel but has promoted a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday that he had spoken with Israel’s security forces about Beinart’s detainment and called it an “administrative mistake.”

“Israel is an open society which welcomes all – critics and supporters alike,” Netanyahu’s statement said. “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where people voice their opinions freely and robustly.”

Beinart is the latest progressive American Jewish activist to be detained and questioned upon entering Israel. Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher were all recently detained and questioned about their protest activity.

In early July, the Jewish pro-boycott activist Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel. A law passed last year allows Israel to bar supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

“Now, it seems, the Knesset wants me to choose,” Beinart wrote in a 2017 column criticizing the entry law. “Either stop visiting Israel or stop opposing the occupation. In a variety of ways, that’s the deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been offering American Jews for close to a decade now. Embrace Israel at the cost of your principles or embrace your principles at the cost of Israel.”

Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of progressive Israeli organizations, called the questioning of left-wing activists “morally unacceptable and anti-democratic.”

“The Netanyahu government has shown once again that it is now a matter of policy to use border crossings as interrogation chambers,” Sokatch said in a statement Monday. “The government is demonstrating that the test for entering the country is a political one — either you agree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-right wing coalition or you’re subject to questioning, intimidation, or refusal.”