Israel Refuses Visa to World Council of Churches Official, Isabel Phiri, for Her Boycott and Divestment Activism

Isabel Phiri works for the WCC, which includes most of the world’s Orthodox churches. Photograph: YouTube
Isabel Phiri works for the WCC, which includes most of the world’s Orthodox churches. Photograph: YouTube

Isabel Phiri is first foreigner denied entry because of alleged involvement with Palestinian-led BDS movement

Israel has denied entry to a prominent theologian and academic for her alleged activism in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – the first time officials say a foreign national has been refused entry for that reason.

Isabel Phiri, who is an assistant general secretary with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, was refused a visa at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday afternoon.

The inter-church organisation condemned the move saying it was based on false and inaccurate information.

While pro-Palestinian foreign activists are often turned away by Israel, officials said it was the first time a foreign national had been refused entry specifically for pro-BDS activities.

Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, said he had decided against issuing the visa after consultation with the public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is also in charge of countering anti-Israel boycotts.

In a statement to media, Deri said: “Granting an entry permit to activists such as Phiri would in effect reinforce the wrongful activities she and her peers are advancing and I have no intention of lending a hand to that. I will use any authority at my disposal to avert harm to Israel.”

Erdan said: “The place of the boycotters is outside the country’s borders and we shall continue to do everything possible to prevent them from entering our country.”

The claims were denied by Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the WCC, who accused the Israeli authorities of discrimination by singling out the only African member of the delegation, describing the move as “patently unjust and discriminatory action against Phiri”.

Speaking to the Guardian, Tveit said that far from working to delegitimise Israel, the WCC had recognised Israeli statehood in 1948, regarded “antisemitism as a sin” and had no connection to BDS.

“I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli ministry of interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources.” He added that the WCC volunteers and staff in Israel worked as observers and that his organisation was committed to a just two-state solution under international law.

“The accusations made against the WCC and the [accompaniment] programme in the interrogation of Dr Phiri and published in the [Israeli] media today are completely false.”

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SOURCE: The Guardian