Israel Just Blacklisted a Group That Helped Jews Under Nazi Rule in World War II—Here's Why

A sign on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem calls to boycott Israeli products from Jewish settlements, on June 5, 2015. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty

The Israel government published a blacklist of organizations Sunday that it considers anti-Semitic because of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; its activist members will be barred from entering the country. The list includes a group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for helping Jews living under Nazi occupation and rule before, during and after World War II.

The Quaker organization, known as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), is on the blacklist with 19 other groups published by the Israeli government's Strategic Affairs Ministry, which has been tasked with mounting an offensive against the BDS movement and anti-Israel campaigners.

BDS is a global campaign that advocates applying economic and political pressure on Israel to achieve equal rights for Palestinians in the country, and calls for an end to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It also opposes the presence of Jewish settlements in those territories, which the majority of the international community considers to be illegal under international law.

Israel says BDS is an inherently anti-Semitic movement, one that seeks to destroy Israel as a country and end its existence as a predominantly Jewish nation-state.

The AFSC set up a refugee unit in 1938 with the aim of helping Jews survive Nazi persecution. It helped rescue or assist some 22,000 Jews and Christians before, during and after the war. The work it did alongside the British Friends Service Council led it to win the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, the group supports a boycott of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights, territories that Israel captured from Jordan and Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. It also supports targeting companies that play a role in the military occupation of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"In the context of Israel and Palestine AFSC supports the the [sic] use of boycott and divestment campaigns targeting only companies that support the occupation, settlements, militarism, or any other violations of international humanitarian or human rights law," its website reads, according to the Times of Israel.

In response to a Newsweek request for comment about the ban of the AFSC, Ben Moore, the foreign media spokesperson for Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, said the group was selected because "it is currently involved in active, ongoing and extensive involvement in promoting a boycott against the State of Israel and companies which conduct business within its borders."

Moore said that the regulation "excludes political criticism of Israel as a criterion for consideration" on the blacklist, and that "all countries" have the right to decide who enters and exits its borders.

The AFSC said it would continue to work for "peace and justice" but did not elaborate on how many of its activists or which areas of its work would be affected by the ban.

Announcing the blacklist, the Israeli government said it had taken the decision to stop those who were against the State of Israel from entering its borders.

"We have shifted from defense to offense. The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them and not allow [them] to enter its territory to harm its citizens," Erdan, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, said in a statement.

"No country would have allowed critics coming to harm the country to enter it," Erdan added.

The list will be put in place by the Interior Ministry. Arye Dary, who runs the department, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "These people are trying to exploit the law and our hospitality to act against Israel and to defame the country. I will act against this by every means."

In an effort to enforce the ban, the names of the activists will be sent to border-control points and the country's only airport, Ben-Gurion International in Tel Aviv, to prevent them entering the country, according to another Haaretz report. The most prominent targets would be the leaders and most influential figures in the organization.

"The heads and key activists in these organizations are the ones who will not be allowed to enter Israel," the ministry said.

Many of the groups on the list who oppose Israel's military occupation say they seek to emulate the South African activism of the 1980s against apartheid.

The BDS campaign said that activism has scored several major victories for its cause, including mobile phone company Orange terminating contracts with its Israeli business, and the world's largest security firm, G4S, announcing the sale of its business in Israel.