The US administration has denied entry to a prominent Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel despite his holding of valid travel documents.
Omar Barghouti was traveling to the US on the invitation of Arab American Institute (AAI) – a Washington-based advocacy group – to speak at a series of events when he was stopped by staff at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport this week.
The airline staff told Barghouti that American immigration officials had ordered the US consul in Tel Aviv to deny him permission to board the flight and enter the United States due to an “immigration matter,” according to a statement by the AAI.
“Barghouti was not provided an explanation for his denial of entry beyond ‘immigration matter,’ ” the advocacy group said, adding that the Palestinian activist typically faces travel restrictions from Israel but not the United States.
Barghouti holds valid travel documents and a US visa valid until 2021.
Barghouti was set to attend the wedding ceremony of his daughter, who lives in the United States. He was also scheduled to speak at Harvard and New York University as well as a Philadelphia bookstore owned by a professor, whose pundit contract at CNN was terminated last year over his support for Palestinian rights.
The 55-year-old activist has a master’s degree from Columbia University and spent a decade in the US in the 1980s.
A ‘politically motivated’ entry ban
“This US entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality,” Barghouti said.
“Israel’s far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing; it is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the US and to xenophobic, far-right cohorts across the world,” he added.
Barghouti went on to say that, “The most precious thing that this ban deprives me of, and that I cannot compensate, is being at my daughter’s wedding. I am hurt, but I am not deterred.”
The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations and later turned international. It is meant to initiate “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law” and end its occupation of Palestinian lands.
US silencing Palestinian voices
James Zogby, the president of the AAI group, called Barghouti’s ban an “arbitrary political decision,” and accused the US administration in Washington of working to “silence Palestinian voices” in the debate over BDS.
Zogby also condemned “regressive” anti-BDS legislation passed in several US states in recent months, saying the pro-Israel measures were in breach of Americans’ First Amendment rights.
“It is disturbing that policy makers and the American people will not have the opportunity to hear from Omar directly about his views,” Zogby said in a statement. “The voices of advocates for Palestinian human rights, whether through political targeting or regressive, discriminatory laws, are silenced when discussions or debates are denied.”
Israel and its allies in Washington have long railed against the BDS, which was launched over a decade ago and calls for people and groups across the world to cut economic, cultural and academic ties to Tel Aviv.
Last year, Israel published a list of 20 organizations whose activists would be barred from entering the occupied territories due to their support for boycott campaigns.
Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has been allocated $36m to combat the BDS movement.