Group that saved refugees from Nazi Germany blacklisted by Israel

The country's right-wing government is now targeting Quakers.

Pro-Palestinian Protestors supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, demonstrates ahead of Pharrell Williams concert outside Grand West Arena on September 21, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa. CREDIT: Michelly Rall/Getty Images
Pro-Palestinian Protestors supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, demonstrates ahead of Pharrell Williams concert outside Grand West Arena on September 21, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa. CREDIT: Michelly Rall/Getty Images

A list of organizations blacklisted by Israel over their support for a boycott movement include a Quaker group awarded the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize for helping refugees during World War II.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was among 20 groups named on a list released Sunday and compiled by Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry. Leaders from the organizations listed will be barred from entering the country over their backing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS.

“The state of Israel will actively prevent such groups from spreading their falsehoods and odious methods from within the country,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who called the blacklist “another step in our work to thwart anti-Israel boycott organizations.”

A small Christian minority, Quakers (or, the Religious Society of Friends) have historically supported a number of progressive efforts, opposing war, slavery, and various forms of discrimination. Founded in 1917, AFSC has long served as a social justice arm for politically-engaged Quakers. After the end of World War II, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work helping the victims of violence, including refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Along with other human rights organizations, AFSC has spoken out against the Israeli occupation and advocated for the rights of Palestinians, many of whom live without basic access to water, electricity, and medical assistance. AFSC notably argues for a partial, not full, boycott of Israeli companies and entities.

“In the context of Israel and Palestine AFSC supports the the use of boycott and divestment campaigns targeting only companies that support the occupation, settlements, militarism, or any other violations of international humanitarian or human rights law,” the AFSC website states. AFSC advocates for “the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live as sovereign peoples in their own homeland” and has pushed for “a just and lasting peace” in the region.

That distinction hasn’t saved the Quaker organization from blacklisting. AFSC’s inclusion in the list has surprised allies, especially given the organization’s history of aiding Jewish refugees.

“It really shows how vague this idea of BDS is. BDS has become a synonym for anyone critical of Israel,” Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told Haaretz.

The blacklist is only the latest effort to crack down on BDS, which aims to raise global awareness and action surrounding the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Israel’s right-wing government has sought to stomp out the movement, targeting international organizations and activists, as well as domestic supporters. In March, the Knesset approved a travel ban on foreigners calling for a boycott of Israel or its settlements. At the time of its passing, a number of international human rights groups joined members of Israel’s Arab Joint List party in condemning the ban, arguing that global sentiment is overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation.

“Who today doesn’t oppose a boycott of the settlements? Look at the UN, at the EU, at what’s happening in the international community. Do you want to boycott all of them and refuse them entry to Israel?” asked Dov Khenin, one Arab List member. “The whole world thinks the settlements are illegal. You are essentially promoting a move that will strengthen the boycott of Israel.”

AFSC has indicated that the boycott will have little impact on its opposition to both the occupation and Israeli settlements.

“[T]he American Friends Service Committee has supported and joined in nonviolent resistance for over 100 years. We answered the call for divestment from apartheid South Africa and we have done the same with the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions from Palestinians who have faced decades of human rights violations,” said Kerri Kennedy, associate general secretary for international programs for AFSC. “We will continue to stand up for peace and justice in Israel, occupied Palestine and around the world.”

Other organizations singled out by the blacklist include the British campaign War on Want and numerous Palestinian groups. The ban will also impact at least two efforts run by Jewish activists, Code Pink and Jewish Voice for Peace. A number of Jewish and Palestinian advocates impacted noted that the travel ban would prevent them from visiting relatives and making pilgrimages to important religious sites.

“As someone with considerable family in Israel, this policy will be a personal hardship,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote on Facebook. “But I am also heartened by this indicator of the BDS movement’s growing strength, and hope that it will bring the day closer when just as I go to visit my friends and family in Israel, so will Palestinian friends and colleagues be able to return home.”

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, asserted that the ban would backfire.

“When Israel, which aims to portray itself to the world as liberal and democratic, blacklists activists dedicated to nonviolent organizing and dissent, it only further exposes itself as a fraud. It is clear to us how effective building the movement for Palestinian rights around the world has become,” Munayyer said. “Our commitment to the rights of Palestinians, and our demand to hold Israel to account for the denial of these rights, is unwavering. ”