Experts and activists have praised the Israeli government's inclusion of American anti-Zionist student groups in a new initiative announced on Sunday that will prevent the entry to the country of foreigners that promote a boycott of the Jewish state.
The blacklist published by the Israeli government includes 20 organizations, among them Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which spearhead boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resolutions on campuses nationwide, and have been criticized for whitewashing Palestinian terrorism and creating a hostile environment for Jewish students.
Several experts who spoke to The Algemeiner on Monday pointed to the incendiary nature of the groups and their adverse impact on many college campuses.
Dan Diker, project director of the program to counter political warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, said Israel's move may send a message to "university administrations that have been reluctant to draw a line in the sand.
SJP activists "threaten, intimidate, and harass students on campus," argued Diker, who co-authored an extensive report on the group in November. "They shut down free speech and they promote anti-normalization of relations not only with Israel, but with Jewish students on campus."
He observed that individual SJP members and chapters have been found to glorify terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
"They are, simply put, a tyrannical student organization that university administration has been afraid to confront, with several exceptions" — namely Northeastern University, Vassar College, and Fordham University, Diker said. "They have basically co-opted the university campus as a place for the peaceful exchange of ideas" to advance their own agenda — "the dissolution of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people."
"No civilized country can countenance that kind of behavior," he added.
Diker emphasized that Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which published the blacklist, "did a very judicious review of these groups."
"There are hundreds of BDS groups around the world, and they only took the 20 worst," he pointed out.
According to Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, these include groups that have "open ties" to terrorist groups.
SJP, Romirowsky said, "has ties to Hamas. They are a subsidiary of American Muslims for Palestine [AMP]," which was also included on the blacklist.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said in congressional testimony in 2016 that AMP is "arguably the most important sponsor and organizer" for SJP. At least seven individuals affiliated with AMP "have worked for or on behalf of organizations previously shut down or held civilly liable in the United States for providing financial support to Hamas" — namely the Holy Land Foundation, Islamic Association for Palestine, and KindHearts, Schanzer said.
Romirowsky argued that while pursuing illiberal ends, BDS advocates "try to play it both ways, saying Israel is stifling conversation and academic freedom," even though they "are not looking for any kind of dialogue."
"They are basically looking ... to put the onus [for the conflict] entirely on Israel," he said. Ultimately, BDS "is not about a two state solution and it's not about reconciliation. It's all about the destruction of the state of Israel."
The organizations targeted by Israel's blacklist have refuted such claims, arguing instead that Jerusalem's actions are the primary obstacle to peace.
Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, charged on Sunday that BDS activists were being denied entry in reaction to the increasing support their movement is receiving worldwide, and represents an attempt "to intimidate and coerce us into silence."
"It could not be more clear from this most recent move that the rising global tide of support for BDS deeply alarms Israel," she wrote, "which recognizes it as a potent tool to change the status quo of Palestinian dispossession that has been an integral part of Israeli statehood."
Also on Sunday, SJP's co-founder Hatem Bazian — a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, who serves as AMP's national chair — tweeted that Israel's blacklist represents a declaration of "defeat in the face of global BDS success!"
The move was further condemned by some self-professed opponents of BDS — including Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the lobbying group J Street, which advocates for "a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
"Israel ban on entry for BDS activists undercuts democratic foundations of state," Ben-Ami tweeted on Monday. "The right way forward is to defeat the BDS movement by ending the occupation and saving its democracy, not trashing its democracy to keep out activists with whom it disagrees."
Supporters of the move contended that the Israeli government has a right to prevent the entry of non-citizens who actively oppose the Jewish state's existence, although some noted that it may conversely help the targeted groups' recruiting efforts.
"Every government, including Israel, has the right to set and enforce regulations on visas and entry into the country," said Gerald Steinberg, president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor.
"This policy serves as a warning and may make political warfare more difficult," Steinberg noted, "but it also gives the NGOs ammunition to paint themselves as victims under attack by Israel, thereby helping them raise funds and gaining media attention."
This opinion was shared by Diker who said he "would be unsurprised if the actions of the Israeli government would actually encourage more activism by some of these groups."
SJP, JVP, and AMP did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner's requests for comment.