executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
an award-winning Israeli filmmaker.
the lead actor in Junction 48 and a rap artist with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM.
While President Trump has made international headlines for his attempt to temporarily ban refugees and residents of some Muslim-majority nations, one of Washington’s closest allies has instituted a travel ban of its own. Earlier this week, Israeli lawmakers approved a law barring supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, from entering Israel. The BDS movement is an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. The Israeli parliament voted to ban non-Israelis from entering the country if they, or any organizations they are a part of, support the boycott. After the law was passed, the Israeli parliament posted a message on its site reading, "In recent years calls to boycott Israel have been growing. It seems this is a new front in the war against Israel, which until now the country had not prepared for properly." We are joined by three guests. Rebecca Vilkomerson is executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Also with us are two guests connected to the new film "Junction 48." Israeli-American filmmaker Udi Aloni directed the film, and the Palestinian actor Tamer Nafar is the film’s star.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the theme song from the new film Junction 48, performed by Tamer Nafar and Samar Qupty. We’ll be joined by Tamer in just a minute. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: While President Trump has made international headlines for his attempt to temporarily ban refugees and residents of some Muslim-majority nations, one of Washington’s closest allies has instituted a travel ban of its own. Earlier this week, Israeli lawmakers approved a law barring supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, from entering Israel. The BDS movement is an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. The Israeli parliament voted to ban non-Israelis from entering the country if they, or any organizations they are part of, support the boycott. After the law was passed, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, posted a message on its site reading, quote, "In recent years calls to boycott Israel have been growing. It seems this is a new front in the war against Israel, which until now the country had not prepared for properly."
AMY GOODMAN: The ban has been widely criticized even by critics of BDS. The American Jewish Committee, which opposes the boycott movement, said the law will not defeat BDS, nor—quote, "nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is," unquote. The publication Inside Higher Public Ed [Inside Higher Ed] reports a group of Jewish studies scholars are preparing to release an open letter opposing the law, describing it as a, quote, "further blow to the democratic foundations of Israel," unquote. Professor Mara Benjamin of St. Olaf College, who opposes BDS, said the ban, quote, "will have a chilling effect on scholarship (as well as on all people who care about having a healthy democracy in the state of Israel)" unquote.
Well, today we begin our discussion with three guests. Rebecca Vilkomerson is executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace here in New York. Also with us are two guests who are involved with a new film that’s just premiered in New York. It’s called Junction 48. The Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni is with us. He directed the film. And the Palestinian actor Tamer Nafar is the film’s star and musical director.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! At first we were just going to be talking about the film. But given the fact that while Tamer and Udi came to the United States this ban was passed, we thought we’d start by asking you: What is your response? Udi, you’re an Israeli American. Your mother, very famous first lady of human rights, Shulamit Aloni, was a longtime member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Your thoughts on this ban?
UDI ALONI: First, the ban is much worse than even you described it, because it’s a ban even if somebody boycott only the settlement. So, if somebody here in America is against war crime and against stealing lands from Palestinians by Jews, he’s already not allowed into America [sic]. So, people who support it, for me, they really just—
AMY GOODMAN: Into America, or Israel?
UDI ALONI: Into Israel, sorry. And it’s very important to mention it, because already you hear Governor Cuomo is helping those antidemocratic thing, because he passed a bill here that people who support the BDS are not allowed to receive money from the state of New York. So, really, when Cuomo look in the mirror, he should see Trump, because I feel that people who doesn’t get us to live in democracy, they are the true anti-Semitic, because they believe that we, Israeli Jews, don’t have the right to change our system. And this is horrific.
In the one hand, in a way, I’m happy that now we reveal something about the true Israel, because, you know, now it’s Purim, when all the Jews putting mask. And once, we used to have a liberal mask. The most famous mask now in Israel is the mask of a soldier who murdered in cold blood a wounded prisoner of war. Those are the mask that most of the Israeli kids now are using. So, now, when the mask and the true is the same, maybe it’s time for Democrats here to stop supporting Israel, if they care about Jews.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Rebecca, can you talk about what the impact of this ban is likely to be on some in the American Jewish community who are also opposed—support BDS and are opposed to settlements?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, I can start with how it’s going to affect me personally. I’m a proud supporter of the BDS movement. My organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, supports BDS. I also happen to have really strong ties to Israel. My grandparents are buried there. My aunt, my uncle, my cousins live there. I’m married to an Israeli. My kids are Israeli. I’ve lived myself three years in Israel. I have a lot of friends and family, you know, Jews, Palestinians, on both sides of the Green Line. And it seems like, you know, this bill is basically saying that I’m not welcome to come back. And so, for myself personally, it’s a really sad moment.
I do want to emphasize that the real impact of the bill is going to be on Palestinians. So, of course, Palestinians in the diaspora who are willing to speak up for their rights, they’re not going to be able to come in, and also Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and even East Jerusalem. So, in terms of if they’re married to Palestinians inside of Israel but don’t have permanent residency, they may not be able to reunite with their families, or if they leave the country, they may not be able to come back. If they want to get medical care inside of Israel, they may not be able to enter, just because they’re speaking up for their rights.
So, like Udi was saying, I think this is a real shift. It makes overt a policy that was already, to a certain extent, in place, but a little bit underwater, because what happened was, people would try to come into Israel, and, based on racial profiling, people would be rejected at the border, usually Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, people who looked Muslim even, other people of color. So they’d be taken aside and often deported. But now it’s this categorical ban, that’s very overt. And like Udi said, it takes the mask off and shows how antidemocratic Israel is becoming.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it the first time Jews will not be able to—some will be stopped from going to Israel? Palestinians know well—
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —not having the right of return.
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But for Jews, this will be—is this a first?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yes. I mean, there’s been one or two instances. There was a famous—
UDI ALONI: Noam Chomsky.
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, exactly, Noam Chomsky was the first and famous incident, where he was rejected at the border. But in terms of saying like Jews who have certain political—who have certain political standards, you’re not welcome here, this is absolutely a first.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Tamer Nafar, who is joining us. He was just in New York for the premiere of Junction 48. He’s the musical director and the star of the film, hip-hop artist, well known for his group, the hip-hop group DAM. Now, you, Tamer, are Palestinian, but you are also an Israeli citizen. You live in, well, the city that is featured in Junction 48, Lyd, which is right near Tel Aviv airport. How will this affect you? I think we have a very long delay in linking up with him in Champaign-Urbana, in Illinois.
TAMER NAFAR: This ban thing—I think that, you know, Palestinians have been banned since forever. And nobody—and it’s an unhuman act, and it’s a—for me, it’s a crime issue. So, nobody has punished Israel ever since they were banning Palestinians. And so, Israel right now feels the power that they can just move on with it, and now they are trying to ban other people that are not Palestinians. And I think if it’s not being—if we still don’t put Israel to its—to that spot and put it on their place, then it’s going to get bigger and bigger, because that’s the whole thing with Israel. When they do things and nobody is punishing them, not even criticizing them, then that will get them drunk of power to continue on growing up and doing whatever they do.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Udi, could you comment on the fact that many have drawn comparisons between Trump’s most recent—and although it’s the second version of it—executive order, which bans refugees and Muslims and people from six Muslim-majority countries from coming into the U.S.—the comparison between that ban and what Israel has just instituted?
UDI ALONI: I want to say it’s maybe worse, because the real law that Israel passed just a few weeks ago said that, legally, Jews allow to steal lands from Palestinians, only because they are Jews, and those are Palestinian. I want to repeat it, because people here in America don’t believe it. We have a new law that settlers allowed to steal private lands of Arabs and take it to Jews. This is an official law. And now they’re going to ban everyone who criticize a pure apartheid law. So, in a way, it’s horrific. It’s only everyone who stand for civil right in the minimum level—liberals, not radical—is not allowed to Israel. I think that Trump and Bibi are in competition: Who is getting worse or who is getting more weird about antidemocratic laws? And they are very similar, and they enjoy each other too much.
AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, I would completely agree that, you know, both bans are completely xenophobic, however they define the other. They’re based on the sort of security culture, the sense of fear, and really cruel, cruel laws that are, you know, excluding refugees, including people who have rights to enter these lands. And so, I think that this mirroring is really problematic. And I think—but the thing that I also want to come back to is that it is a sign, I think, that we’re winning globally. And the fear that Israel has of BDS and the fact that they felt the need to legislate against this law, it’s not going to work. People are not going to stay silent about this just because Israel is trying to make this ban. It seems like it’s part of the natural evolution of a struggle like this, that as the movement grows, they’re going to try to shut it down. And this is the next step.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Tamer Nafar about Israel just introducing another bill—this was on Wednesday—to limit Muslim calls to prayer. The bill has won preliminary approval, though critics have denounced the measure as racist. Supporters of the bill say it’s aimed at improving the quality of life of people living near mosques, who have been losing sleep. Opponents say the legislation, which was sponsored by right-wing parties, impinges on the religious freedom of Israel’s Muslim minority. This is Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi.
AHMAD TIBI: [translated] This law is racist. This is its fate, to be torn apart. Islam and the call to prayer are stronger than all of you.
AMY GOODMAN: The proponents of the bill call the Muslim call to prayer noise pollution. Tamer Nafar, your response?
TAMER NAFAR: As I said, this is the—this is things that this place is heading to. So, I wouldn’t be—I wouldn’t be surprised or shocked if, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, Muslims or Christians or non-Jews will be scared to reveal their religion, and they will be walking without—just, you know, hiding their religion. And that’s where the place is heading to. But again, these things are being revealed now. But I’ve heard—but I live in a place where, before that, you have mass demolitions. You have Islamic places where they’re being demolished. So it’s always happening. This time, it’s happening louder. The volume is up, and the cameras are on. But it’s always happening. And I think that now, with the Trump area—with the Trump era, I think it’s easy. It’s like a stage. It’s easier for them to do it. Like it’s legit now. But these things have been happening since forever.