Reform head asks Netanyahu to clarify how anti-boycott law will affect Israel trip participants


Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, center, participating in a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 4, 2016. (Courtesy of the URJ)

(JTA) — The head of the Reform Movement asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clarify how the country’s new anti-boycott law will affect participants in the movement’s tours to Israel.

The law passed last month by the Israeli Knesset bars entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Rabbi Rick Jacobs said he was writing on behalf of students who are scheduled to participate in trips to Israel sponsored by the Reform movement and who are concerned that they will be turned away because of their political views.

Jacobs wrote that the young people now “find themselves in this very difficult and troubling situation.”


Jacobs sent the query in the wake of another letter sent last week to Birthright senior executives, signed by 575 students from 97 colleges and universities and three high schools across the United States. They questioned if their views would be screened, if they could be stopped at the airport and if the organizers would offer them support if they are banned from entering under the new law.

“This law is, as we suspected it would, raising concern among hundreds of Birthright Israel participants … all of whom are excited to be registered to leave soon for Israel, but all of whom, too, are worried that based on their opposition to settlement expansion they will be stopped at the border when they land in Israel. These are young people raised in our Movement who are active in a range of Jewish organizations on their campuses where they face nearly daily situations where they are put on the front line of defending and explaining Israel,” Jacobs wrote.

The ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge boycotting areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

Lawmakers have asserted that the measure was meant to target influential groups, not individuals.

Jacobs noted that he is a personal opponent of the BDS movement and boycotts against Israel. He called the law “counter-productive” and added: “I am frustrated that by passing this law, the Israeli government has, in essence, posted a giant sign by the door of the Jewish state saying, ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’”

“We would like to hear from you and your government what message we should be sending to these young people regarding what, indeed, they should expect when they arrive. We owe nothing less to them and to their parents,” Jacobs wrote.

Earlier this week, Americans for Peace Now cancelled its annual Israel Study Trip over concerns that trip participants could be stopped at Ben Gurion International Airport and denied entry into Israel, after failing to get assurances from the Israeli government that participants would be able to enter the country. APN rejects BDS targeting Israel, but supports boycotts of settlements and settlement products.

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