On Friday 20 July, two researchers of SOMO were denied access into Israel at Ben Gurion airport (Tel Aviv). The stated reason for the denial of entry was their alleged Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) activism. SOMO finds this decision, issued by the Israeli Minister of Interior, and the treatment of the researchers subsequent to their denial of entry, to be both incomprehensible and unacceptable.
Denied contact with embassy or lawyer
Both researchers, Lydia de Leeuw and Pauline Overeem, were questioned upon arrival and informed of the government’s decision to deny them entry into Israel, and thereby also the Israeli-occupied territories, for violating anti-BDS legislation. It should be noted that advocating for a blanket boycott (including social, cultural and academic levels) falls outside the scope of SOMO’s work as organisation researching multinationals. Since SOMO is not active in the BDS movement, it is incomprehensible why its employees would still be denied entry into Israel on this basis. Despite numerous requests, the SOMO researchers were denied the right to contact the Dutch embassy or a lawyer to appeal this decision.
Shrinking space for civil society and freedom of expression
This denial of entry into Israel, based on an (unfounded) association with the BDS movement, is an illustration of the ongoing trend toward shrinking space for civil society and the freedom of expression. SOMO is extremely concerned about the criminalization of individuals and organizations that have called upon countries and businesses to promote and respect human rights. As the Dutch government See https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-23432-442.html and https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/kamerstukken/2016/05/19/beantwoording-kamervragen-over-israelische-dreigementen-tegen-aanhangers-van-de-boycot-desinvesteringen-en-sancties-bds-beweging, the BDS movement’s communications and meetings are protected by the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Through its various research and training activities, SOMO contributes to the promotion of human rights in numerous countries, including conflict-affected areas. SOMO has been working with various organizations in Israel and the oPt (occupied Palestinian territories) for some time now, the research results of which are available on SOMO’s website. SOMO’s research focuses mainly on the agricultural sector and natural resource extraction in the context of the occupation and settlements.
Appeal to Dutch government
SOMO expects the Dutch government, as part of its human rights policy to, first of all, request an explanation from the Israeli authorities regarding this incident, and to condemn the treatment of experienced by the researchers during their deportation, and, thirdly, to put into practice its commitment to protecting the freedom of expression, which Israel’s BDS legislation and its application undermine. Finally, we urge the Dutch government to take action so that SOMO, in cooperation with local human rights organizations, can continue to do its work. SOMO’s researchers’ access to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories serves as an important prerequisite for this work.