On March 6, 2017, the Israeli Knesset, by a vote of 46 to 28, passed a law banning entry to all foreign nationals “if he or she, or the organization or the body for which he or she operates, has knowingly published a public call to engage in a boycott against the State of Israel or has made a commitment to participate in such a boycott.” The law has stirred worry, both within Israel and without, for its seeming compression of the idea of supporting boycotts as political speech or intellectual expression, and the idea of boycotts as security threat. That much is the subject of healthy debate among Israeli citizens, in universities, newspapers, as well as in the Knesset.
For noncitizens of Israel, however, the debate about boycotts and divestment has carried a different toll: Since the law’s passage, a variety of foreign individuals, NGOs, and other organizations have been banned or deported from the country, including the American Friends Service Committee. One such banning that sparked particular international concern was the detention and deportation of Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke. I should disclose that I am also a Columbia Law professor and therefore a colleague of Franke’s. I interviewed her recently; the following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
—Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams: What happened?
Katherine Franke: I was traveling to Israel and the West Bank as part of a 20-member delegation of civil-rights leaders from the United States. When we landed in Tel Aviv on the morning of April 29, 2018, four members of the delegation, including me, were detained, interrogated, and then deported. [The rest of the delegates exited the airport without issue and proceeded to Jerusalem to start the trip.] I was told that I would be banned from entering the country—one person said it was for life, another for five years. The deportation order I received did not clarify this.
PW: What was the purpose of your trip?
KF: First, I am the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and CCR had organized the delegation. The group included lawyers and activists working on Native American resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline; advocates fighting police violence in Ferguson; human-rights defenders in Puerto Rico; lawyers challenging the Muslim ban in the US; and the cochair of the Women’s March. We had scheduled visits with civil-rights advocates and others in Israel and in the West Bank.
Secondly, I was traveling in my capacity as Columbia faculty, to meet with two graduate students whose dissertations I am supervising. One is an Israeli citizen living in Haifa. The other is a Palestinian human-rights advocate in Ramallah who cannot get a permit from the Israelis to exit the West Bank. The only way for us to meet in person is for me to travel to Ramallah.