Jewish-American activist and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Ariel Gold, who was barred from entering Israel earlier this month, speaks to MEMO about her experience.
On 1 July, Ariel Gold attempted to enter Israel through Ben Gurion airport. Despite holding a student visa which she had obtained in advance of her visit, she was detained upon landing and questioned for several hours. At 11pm she was told that she had been refused entry. At the time Gold wrote on her Facebook page : "I am in Tel Aviv airport getting deported. I got a visa in advance to enter the country but they are refusing to honor [sic] it and are deporting me now."
In the weeks since she was denied entry to Israel, Ariel told MEMO that "a spokeswoman for the US Department of State was asked by a reporter about my case at a press briefing. The spokeswoman replied that Israel has the right to deny entry to whoever they wish and that the State Department does not support BDS." Ariel explains that "this was no surprise to me, given the current US administration," which – under President Donald Trump – has doubled down on its support for Israel by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, renouncing the Iran nuclear deal at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and slashing funding to UNRWA.
Gold's attempt to enter Israel drew the attention of high-profile figures from within the Israeli establishment, including Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, and Interior Minister, Arye Dery. Erdan personally recommended that Gold be prevented from entering the country, tweeting that "whoever acts for a boycott of Israel and comes here to cause damage will not enter the country."
Ariel tells MEMO that, upon denying her entry, "Erdan stated that it was because I had filmed soldiers in Hebron and told them that they were violating Jewish values." The Security Minister was apparently referring to a previous visit to Israel made by Gold in 2017 during which she visited Hebron to monitor the military trial of Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro. In an interview with Haaretz at the time, Gold said she had come "under attack" after Israel Hayom ran an article alleging she had tricked Israeli authorities to gain entry into the country.
Israel passed a law in June outlawing the filming of Israeli occupation soldiers, a move which has been seen as the state's latest attempt to crackdown on groups and individual activists who document human rights violations committed by the Israeli army. Anyone indicted under the new bill could face between five and ten years' imprisonment. Gold explains:
I think it is backwards to deny entry to me for [filming soldiers] rather than requiring soldiers to act morally. Of course for soldiers to act morally this would require Israel to end their occupation of Palestinian lands and the siege on Gaza, to provide full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and to implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their decedents in accordance with international law.
Gold is doubtful any of this will happen any time soon. She told MEMO that the involvement of such high profile ministers in denying her entry to Israel is, in many ways, representative of the agenda currently being espoused by the wider Israeli government. She argues "the current government's agenda is so clear. In fact, it seems Netanyahu and Trump are in a race to see who can implement more racist, repressive laws in a faster period of time." Referring to the so-called Breaking the Silence law that was passed this week, banning the anti-occupation group and others from giving lectures in schools, Gold said she sees it as "no surprise [the Israeli authorities] would want to ban human rights campaigners and advocates like CODEPINK, Human Rights Watch and more."
Gold has long been an activist with CODEPINK, a left-wing NGO that works to end US-funded wars and occupations. Asked what role she thinks such organisations and movements like BDS can play in the face of the increasingly stringent restrictions being imposed by Israel, Ariel says: "I think Israel right now is using BDS as an excuse to ban people. The reality is that BDS is a tactic employed primarily from the outside."
What Israel is intent on doing, as was shown by their denial of my entry, is to stop people from being able to see the occupation with their own eyes, document and expose it and work with Palestinian activists and organisers on the ground.
To ensure their work endures in the face of this crackdown, Gold emphasises the need for BDS supporters and activists to continue their campaign for Palestinian rights. She gives one example from her work with CODEPINK, which is launching a new campaign to "boycott and divest from Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems." She adds that "Elbit is not only one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Israeli military for use in Gaza and elsewhere, but it also provides surveillance and repression on Israel's apartheid wall and on the US-Mexico border."
Momentum behind BDS is growing. On Tuesday, 36 Jewish groups from around the world issued an unprecedented joint statement backing the BDS movement and saying that criticism of Israel's actions does not equate to anti-Semitism. The statement was pioneered by US-based Jewish Voice for Peace and explained "we write this letter with growing alarm regarding the targeting of organisations that support Palestinian rights in general and the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in particular." Gold says that she "fully supports the statement put out by Jewish groups," adding that "BDS is so simple and nonviolent. It is a set of tactics based on international law and in accordance with values of freedom, equality justice and free speech."