US bars entry to Palestinian founder of Israel boycott group

April 11, 2019 - 2:52 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — A founder of the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel was blocked from entering the United States in what he said was a "politically motivated" move.

Omar Barghouti was traveling to the U.S. for a speaking tour but was not allowed to board his flight from Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, according to a statement from the BDS movement. Barghouti said he was told his valid U.S. visa was revoked for "immigration reasons."

Barghouti was planning to meet with journalists and policymakers in Washington, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago, and attend his daughter's wedding. "I am hurt but I am not deterred," he said about missing that ceremony.

The State Department declined comment, citing the confidentiality of visa records.

Barghouti said in a statement to The Associated Press that the entry ban was "ideologically and politically motivated" and part of Israel's "escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders."

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., applauded the U.S. move and described Barghouti as "anti-Israel and anti-Semitic."

The movement advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. Comparing itself to the past anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, movement supporters say it is using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians.

The movement has made significant gains in recent years, particularly among foreign artists and university students.

Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state. Israel enacted a law in 2017 banning any foreigner from entering the country if that person "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel."

The Trump administration has taken several steps to demonstrate strong support for Israel, most recently recognizing Israel's claim to the Golan Heights. Support for Israel has become an increasingly politically charged issue in the early stages of the 2020 election as Republicans seek to woo Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party.

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