to enter Israel?

by tobybee

You might have heard by now, but Noam Chomsky was refused entry to the West Bank the other day. In order to speak at Birzeit University, in the West Bank, Chomsky tried to enter via the Allenby Bridge, but was questioned for a few hours and then turned away. Apparently,

“I entered with my daughter and two friends who we met in Amman the day before,” he told Al Jazeera.

“After several hours of waiting and multiple interrogations our two friends were permitted entry and my daughter and I were informed that we were denied entry after much discussion indirectly with the interior ministry.”

Chomsky said the border officials were “very polite” as they “transmitted inquiries from the [Israeli] ministry of the interior”.

He said that he believed he was denied entry was for two reasons.

“The government does not like the kind of things I say which puts them into the category of every other government in the world,” he said.

“The second was that they seemed upset about the fact that I was taking an invitation from Birzeit and I had no plans of speaking to any Israeli universities as I’ve done many times in the past, but not this time.”

According to Al Jazeera (and you can also watch an interview with Chomsky at this site):

[T]he incident has sparked a debate within Israel, where a number of prominent journalists and writers questioned whether it’s part of a trend – of the Israeli government denying entry to people simply because of their political views.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported that the decision to bar Chomsky came from an official in the Israeli interior ministry – and that he was barred for being a “leftist.”

Chomsky is hardly the first person barred from Israel on ideological grounds. Jared Malsin, the English editor of the Ma’an news service, was deported from Israel in January for his political views. And Ivan Prado, a Spanish clown, was deported earlier this year, also for his political views.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel told the Jerusalem Post that people with left-wing views are routinely barredfrom entering Israel.

Oded Feller, an attorney for the group, said the Israeli interior ministry has not set out clear criteria for barring people from Israel, and that political considerations are often involved.

“There may be a million reasons, but try to find a single criterion for entry refusal and you’ll hit a blank wall,” Feller said.

“Dozens of people are refused entry to Israel every week and I’m sure that the interior ministry has great reasons for every refusal, but if you try to discern what the regulations that guide the decision to grant or refuse an individual’s entry to Israel are, you won’t find them.

“The interior ministry simply doesn’t publish them, this despite a court ruling that ordered them to do so.”

Boaz Okon, the legal affairs editor for the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, said the issue could mark”the end of Israel as a freedom-loving state of law”.

“When freedom disappears – it comes first of all at the expense of the weak, the marginal groups or the minorities. But it does not end there. Now it is also reaching intellectuals with a worldwide reputation.

“Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the decision to shut up Prof. Chomsky is an attempt to put an end to freedom in the State of Israel,” Okon wrote.

Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, reported on the debate within Israel, where one conservative member of the Knesset said barring people with Chomsky’s viewswas a decision “to protect our existence.”

There’s been a heap written on this, so instead of quoting from everyone, I’ll point you to Ha’aretz here and here (where you’ll read that “Kadima MK Otniel Schneller… praised the move. “It’s good that Israel did not allow one of its accusers to enter its territory,” said Schneller. “I recommend [Chomsky] try one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt.””); to Mondoweiss, and to Antony Loewenstein here and here. And I’ll let you know that Chomsky’s lecture will now be delivered from Amman by video conference, on Tuesday at 12-2pm (over there time), and will be able to be watched on Al Jazeera tv.

I don’t feel like I have much to add to what’s happened: it’s so obviously anti-democratic to not allow a person into a country simply because they offer words of dissent. And just that little bit more terrible when it is a Jew who is not allowed in. A Jewish state? Or a state for Jews who concur?

And on the note of dissent, with a tip of my hat to Mondoweiss, I’ll let you know that Elvis Costello, after what seems like quite careful consideration and much discussion, has decided to follow the BDS call, and has cancelled a planned concert tour in Israel. He writes, on his website:

It Is After Considerable Contemplation….

It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.

One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.

Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.


It is a matter of instinct and conscience.

It has been necessary to dial out the falsehoods of propaganda, the double game and hysterical language of politics, the vanity and self-righteousness of public communiqués from cranks in order to eventually sift through my own conflicted thoughts.

I have come to the following conclusions.

One must at least consider any rational argument that comes before the appeal of more desperate means.

Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.

I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.

update: have a read of this piece about how Margaret Attwood and Amitav Ghosh didn’t boycott, and produced a completely vapid response to defend themselves. Tis rather sad – Ghosh is the author of one of my favourite books (In an Antique Land, for those who are interested), and, I thought, had practical politics to match his postcolonial words. Seems not.