Yesterday we mentioned an open letter signed by scholars of Jewish studies deploring Israel’s passage of a law last week barring travel by those who support boycotts against Israel, including BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and boycotts of settlement goods. The letter is being circulated by University of California scholar David Biale, who shared it with us, along with the names of the 172 signatories.
We, the undersigned scholars of Jewish studies, write to express our dismay over the bill passed on March 6 by the Israeli Knesset that would bar entry to any foreigner who supports the BDS movement or supports boycotting settlements or goods produced in the occupied territories. We are researchers with a wide range of professional, social, and personal ties to Israel and a diverse array of ideological positions. But we are unified in our belief that this law represents a further blow to the democratic foundations of Israel, continuing the process of erosion wrought by a recent series of bills including the Regulation Law, the Suspension of MKs Law, and the NGO Law, as well as the earlier Boycott Law. This is unacceptable.
We recall the words of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence promising “full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture” to all in its midst. We also recall the yearning expressed in it to “admit Israel into the family of nations.” Recent policies, culminating in the latest Law of March 6, move Israel further away from these founding ideals. To begin imposing constraints on thought and speech, in this case directed against foreigners, is dangerous in and of itself. It joins a growing wave of anti-democratic acts in regimes the world over. But it also portends a time when these same constraints might be directed against Israel’s own citizens, especially those who do not support the primacy of Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic aspirations.
Among us are those who oppose the BDS movement, those who oppose BDS but support a settlement boycott, and those who support BDS. In spite of our different views, we stand in strong opposition to the new law. It will be bad for Israel, bad for the cause of democracy at this fragile moment, and bad for the principles of free speech and thought on which our scholarship is based. We hope that the Israeli judiciary will overturn the new law and assure us that our political speech will not prevent us from continuing our rich scholarly interactions with Israeli colleagues in the field of Jewish studies. Should the law stand, we may no longer be permitted—nor permit ourselves—to enter the State of Israel.