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British BDS campaigner refused entry to Israel

Hugh Lanning, chair of London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was denied entry on Sunday night at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv
Hugh Lanning addresses a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in the UK in 2014 (PSC/Flickr)

A British activist who advocates boycotting Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory has been denied entry to the country, authorities said Monday.

Hugh Lanning, the chair of the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was denied entry on Sunday night at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv over his "ongoing actions to promote boycotts against Israel," a statement from the immigration authority said.

He flew back to London on Monday morning, authority spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said.

"The organisation Mr Lanning heads is one of the leading anti-Israel delegitimisation and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) organisations in Britain, and one of the largest in Europe," a joint statement from the immigration authority and the strategic affairs ministry said.

It also accused Lanning of maintaining ties to leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, PSC director Ben Jamal said he believed that Lanning was now permanently barred from Israel as a consequence of a new law passed last week banning supporters of the BDS movement.

The law was denounced by human rights groups and members of the opposition as "thought control" harmful to the country's international standing.

“By introducing this law, Israel is violating fundamental freedoms essential to a democracy - the right to free speech, to criticise government policies and human rights violations, the right to advocate non-violent actions to address human rights abuses, the right of free movement and travel. A democratic country does not behave in the way Israel is behaving," said Jamal.

"If Israel believes that by introducing these draconian undemocratic laws it will intimidate its critics into silence it is mistaken. The PSC will not stop raising its voice to highlight the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel itself."

Jamal also called on the British government to "make clear to Israel that it is not acceptable for it to ban entry to British citizens whose only crime is to advocate for human rights of the Palestinian people".

Hadad denied that Lanning had been stopped due to the new law.

She said he had been refused entry at the discretion of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who can bar those they see as working to harm Israel.

In a statement, Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative organisation of the UK Jewish community, said: "In refusing Mr Lanning’s entry, Israel has exercised the same power that the United Kingdom has to deny admission where it would be conducive to the public good.  If the Palestine Solidarity Campaign wants to avoid being treated like a pariah, it has to stop behaving like one.”

Israel has carried out a campaign against calls to boycott it over its 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory.

It sees the boycott movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism - a claim activists deny, saying they only want to see the occupation end.

Israeli politicians have become more combative against BDS activists under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current coalition government, seen as the most right-wing in the country's history.