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Israel passes a travel ban targeting boycott supporters

Israel's parliament has passed into law a controversial travel ban to keep out people who support boycotts of the country or the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The legislation, which was backed by the ruling right-wing coalition, passed Monday by a vote of 48-26. It allows the government to block entry of non-residents who publicly call for a boycott or are associated with companies, advocacy groups or other organizations that do so.

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The legislation defines a boycott to include all calls against Israel, its government, products, or settlements in territories under Israeli military control. The law gives Israel's interior minister the authority to make exemptions in special circumstances.

It describes boycott efforts as a "new front of war against Israel." In recent years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have portrayed the pro-Palestinian movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as an anti-Semitic effort to isolate the country economically.

One of the law's sponsors, parliament member David Amsalem of the ruling Likud Party, described the legislation as "basic."

"I'm not allowing anyone who humiliates me to come into my house," he told the parliament. "We aren't against legitimate criticism, but there's no connection between that and to call for a boycott on the state of Israel, which is crossing a red line.''

Opponents of the law warned that it would put Israel at loggerheads with international groups opposed to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"Who doesn't call for a boycott of settlements today?'' said Dov Khenin, a lawmaker from the predominantly Arab Joint List coalition. "Look at the United Nations, the European Union, and what's going on in the international community: Do you want to boycott all of them and prevent them from entering Israel?"

Americans for Peace Now, a pro-Israeli group opposed to the settlements, warned that the new law would be used to squelch dissenting voices.

"This new draconian law is a severe blow to Israeli democracy," said Chief Executive Debra DeLee in a statement. "It is aimed at basic civil liberty, the freedom of expression, and it will severely harm Israel by keeping out some of its greatest supporters."

Passage of the law follows two incidents in recent weeks in which Israeli immigration authorities put up roadblocks for representatives of human rights organizations trying to enter the country.

A San Francisco executive from the New Israel Fund was detained at the airport for 90 minutes after a grilling about the organization's activities, and Human Rights Watch complained that a U.S. researcher was denied a work permit.

Mitnick is a special correspondent.

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