Listen: Israel scans troll websites to decide who can enter

On this episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast: Israel denies entry to the executive director and board chair of the Center for Constitutional Rights, using false information from Zionist blacklisting websites; author Sunaina Maira explains why the academic boycott is growing in popularity across US universities despite lawfare campaigns aimed at silencing scholars.

Israel continues to racially profile, detain, interrogate, deny entry to and deport people of Palestinian ancestry, Arabs and Muslims, Jewish activists, students, human rights advocates, United Nations officials and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Over the weekend, that denial of entry list was extended to Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Katherine Franke, chair of CCR’s board and a professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Columbia University.

Warren and Franke were traveling as part of a fact-finding delegation to witness the human rights situation in Palestine. The delegation brings together mostly Black and Brown civil and human rights leaders working on domestic US justice issues, according to CCR.

They were detained on 29 April for 14 hours at Ben Gurion airport, then denied entry and deported.

While Warren was led to a detention area and questioned, Franke’s hour-long interrogation took “a very hostile turn,” she told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

The officer interrogating her accused her of trying to enter in order to “promote BDS in Palestine,” Franke said. “Inside, I was sort of chuckling, because you don’t promote BDS in Palestine, that’s not where the work is done.”

The delegation had “nothing to do with BDS,” Franke said. We were coming there to meet with people and witness the kinds of work they were doing and the lives of Palestinians and the Arab minority within Israel.”

The officer then claimed Franke was lying, and accused her of being “a leader of the BDS movement.”

He then apparently held up his cell phone showing search results from websites that compile blacklists and initiate trolling and harassment campaigns against US professors and students who support Palestinian rights: the shadowy group Canary Mission – a website linked to anti-Muslim demagogue Daniel Pipes that aims to tarnish the reputations of student activists and compromise their future professional careers – and the California-based Amcha Initiative.

Israel outsourcing monitoring to “lying troll” wesbites

“The point of the interrogation, from his perspective, was to get me to admit that I was there as part of a boycott project,” Franke stated, and to tie her to Jewish Voice for Peace.

In early January, Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, who is in charge of efforts to thwart the BDS movement, announced a blacklist barring members of 20 human rights organizations from territory it controls.

It includes Palestine solidarity and BDS activist organizations across Europe, in South America, South Africa and the United States, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestine-based BDS National Committee.

It was made clear, Franke said, that Israeli security officials at the airport “have outsourced to these right-wing Zionist, unreliable, lying troll websites the job of sorting who is a security risk and who isn’t.”

According to Franke, this monitoring of activists “says to me that these political movements have actually been very successful, that the Israeli government is that worried about JVP and about BDS, and it sends a signal, in a way, that [Israel is] incredibly vulnerable.”

Warren says it is not certain that he and Franke were singled out because of their work with CCR, which has a long history of advocacy on behalf of Palestine rights supporters. “I think it’s clearer that we were targeted because of the company we keep rather than the work that we do,” he told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

When he asked his interrogating officer to point to something on the internet “that would justify under the Israeli laws of admission why I shouldn’t be admitted as a tourist, he couldn’t do it at all,” Warren recalled.

As Israeli agents detained, interrogated and then deported Warren and Franke on Sunday, Israeli occupation forces killed three Palestinians in Gaza, including a child, in two separate incidents.

Challenging the climate of fear in US academia

In higher education, academics are fighting against institutional pressure “to refrain from any criticism of the Israeli state,” scholar and author Sunaina Maira told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Maira, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis, is part of the organizing collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).

In her new book, Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine, Maira documents the history and trajectory of the academic boycott that was called for by Palestinian civil society as part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Maira says that the academic boycott is a tool that educators and students are using to challenge the climate of silencing and fear of criticism of Israel that is rampant in US universities.

“The academic boycott in particular is very powerful because I think the movement emerged when academics were beginning to get slightly fed up with this censorship,” she told The Electronic Intifada Podcast. It also allowed academic associations “to take a position.”

When the American Studies Association endorsed an academic boycott in 2013, Maira said, “it became clear that critical scholars were actually deeply concerned about Palestine – it really shattered the taboo on criticism of Israel by creating a space for discussion.”

Following the passage of the ASA boycott resolution, Israel lobby groups launched a smear campaign against the association.

Israel-supporting current and former members of the ASA then filed a lawsuit supported by Israel lobby groups in 2016, accusing USACBI members of secretly conspiring “to take over the association for the purposes of a boycott,” Maira explained.

She was named as a defendant in the suit over her public endorsement of the resolution.

“On the contrary, it was one of the most public, grassroots campaigns that had ever taken place in the ASA in recent history,” Maira said.

The threats have continued, with an Israel lobby group filing an expansion to the lawsuit last December, adding Steven Salaita and three other professors to the list of defendants.

Defense lawyers say the real target of the lawsuit is USACBI, and the BDS movement more generally.

Because the Zionists lost in the very public, democratic vote in support of a boycott, their response has been to pour immense resources into lawfare campaigns “to harass and intimidate and defame scholars who dare to organize” around BDS, Maira stated.

According to Maira, “the lawsuit was designed to silence other academic associations” and to send the message that if they dare follow the ASA’s example, those associations would face the same legal wrath.

Listen to the interviews with Sunaina Maira, and Katherine Franke and Vince Warren, via the media player above.

Music: “People Not Places” by Invincible featuring Abeer and Suhell Nafar (DAM)

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).