Prominent Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti was denied entry to the United States on Thursday, a move rights groups claim is an attempt by the Trump administration to silence Palestinian voices.
Barghouti, -- a co-founder of the international movement calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel -- was unable to board a flight from Israel to the United States after reportedly being told he was being denied entry based on an "immigration matter" despite having valid travel documents.
Barghouti was scheduled to speak in several US cities as part of a series of events organized by the Arab American Institute.
Airline staff at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport told Barghouti that US government officials had instructed their consulate in Tel Aviv to stop him from boarding the flight based on an "immigration matter," according to a statement from the head of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, which had invited Barghouti to a number of events during his planned visit.
Barghouti holds valid travel documents and a US visa valid until 2021.
"A leading Palestinian voice on human rights, Omar's denial of entry into the U.S. is the latest example of the Trump Administration's disregard for those rights," AAI President James Zogby said.
"Having spent considerable time here as a student and while on speaking tours, Omar visiting America was never an issue before. It is clear this arbitrary political decision is motivated by this administration's effort to silence Palestinian voices."
The tour was to include events at Harvard University and New York University as well as meetings with "leading policy makers, thought-leaders and journalists," the AAI said.
The series included a stop at a bookstore in Philadelphia owned by Marc Lamont Hill, a contributor who was fired from CNN for calling for a "free Palestine from the river to the sea," during a speech at the United Nations.
At the end of his speaking tour, Barghouti was planning to attend the wedding of his daughter who resides in the US.
"The most precious thing that this ban deprives me of is being at my daughter's wedding. I am hurt, but I am not deterred," Barghouti lamented.
Barghouti is no stranger to travel obstacles from Israel, but this is the first time he has faced a ban from the United States.
The Israeli government has repeatedly restricted his ability to exit and enter Israel by not renewing his travel documents.
In February 2019, Amnesty International issued a call demanding Israel "end the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defender Omar Barghouti."
Barghouti was subsequently issued a valid Israeli travel document.
Speaking over Skype to an audience in DC where he was supposed to headline a discussion moderated by The Atlantic's Peter Beinart, Barghouti said he believed the ban was imposed "by Israel directly or by proxy by the United States" to silence human rights defenders in the BDS movement.
"This US entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel's escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality."
"Israel's far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing; it is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the US and to xenophobic, far-right cohorts across the world," Barghouti declared.
In February, the US Senate passed a law that included a measure making it illegal for state contractors to participate in the BDS movement. While several states already had similar laws in place, this marked the first anti-BDS legislation on a national level.
- 'Entry into Israel Law' -
In 2017, Israel passed a law banning the entry of supporters of BDS, which advocates for isolating Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and is inspired by international advocacy against apartheid-era South Africa.
The "Entry into Israel Law," spearheaded by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, authorizes his ministry to deny visas to non-Israeli citizens who are believed to have been involved in BDS activities.
The Israeli government not only views the movement as anti-Semitic for singling out the world's only Jewish nation but also accuses it of seeking to harm its citizens.
In January 2018, Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a "BDS Blacklist," which together with the Ministry of Interior decided that entry to Israel would not be permitted to individuals associated with the listed organizations.
Commenting on the list, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Israeli government had "moved from defense to attack" when it came to BDS, telling organizations that support a boycott of Israel that the state will "act against them and will not allow them to enter its territory in order to harm its citizens."
The Qatari-born Palestinian Barghouti lives in Israel as a permanent resident with his wife, an Arab-Israeli citizen.
His permanent residency status was under review in 2016 based on concerns that he was based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and using his residency status to fly around the world promoting an anti-Israel movement.