Israel's high-handed Interior Ministry costs the country many friends
By J. Zel Lurie
DELRAY BEACH, Florida — The Ministry of Interior of the State of Israel has struck again. It denied entry to Noam Chomsky, the world-famous 81-year-old Professor of Linguistics at MIT, who wanted to enter the West Bank, not Israel, from Jordan,
Prof. Chomsky is a Zionist iconoclast and scholar of Hebrew and other languages, who has not said a good word about any Israel policy since his youth when he spent an enjoyable year at Kibbutz Hazorea, a Shomer Hatsair kibbutz in the Galilee.
The professor was on his way from Amman, the capital of Jordan to Bir Zeit University which is near Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank. He was invited to give two lectures by Mustafa Barghouti a leader in the Palestinian movement for nonviolence and human rights.
He was stopped at the Allenby Bridge crossing point by a junior officer of the Ministry of Interior. The officer asked some questions like why wasn’t he lecturing in an Israeli university. He then conferred with his superiors in Jerusalem. He asked some more questions and called Jerusalem again. Then he stamped the professor’s American passport “ENTRY DENIED.”
His daughter Aviva (another Hebrew name) and two friends were admitted but all four decided to return to Amman. He gave his lectures by video.
I doubt that the Minister Eli Yishai knew or cared that the denial to Noam Chomsky would cause a stink smelled around the world. Chomsky’s fame in the academic world did not concern him. Yishai, and his Orthodox brethen, prefer yeshivas to universities.
Furthermore, the Ministry should have known that preventing Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank from Jordan would cause serious problems for Israel in the proximity talks since Israel’s shin bet wants control of all border crossings. In the words of Uri Avnery, the iconoclast Israel journalist, “They spat in the face of the Palestine Authority.”
The Ministry of Interior has been an Orthodox principality in both Labor and Likud governments for over 50 years with minor gaps. The Ministry does what it pleases.
I had a run-in with the Ministry 30 years ago. A young British girl had been living in Rosh Pina illegally for five yers with an Israeli boy. They broke up and she decided to convert to Judaism, the holidays of which she had been celebrating for five years, and make her residence in Israel legal. The Orthodox rabbi of Rosh Pina agreed to sponsor her.
Strangely, the Ministry refused to accept the rabbi’s sponsorship. They were on one of their periodic campaigns to rid the country of illegal goyim. The Rosh Pina chief of police received an order to pick her up. He told her to go hide. All of the Rosh Pina officials were her friends. She moved in with a couple I knew in an adjoining moshav. I found her there and heard her incredible story. I figured that my press connections would help her. I was right.
The head of the government press office told me that the Ministry would accept his recommendation. That they would not accept the sponsorship of the Rosh Pina rabbi was unbelievable.
A member of the Knesset told me that there must be a security problem. The shin bet must have a file.
There was no file. I asked Yoram Kaniuk, the famous Israeli author who was writing a newspaper column at the time, to make inquiries at the Ministry. As soon as they heard that the press was interested, they changed their tune. She was admitted to an Orthodox kibbutz for a course for Orthodox conversion.
Thirty years later she lives in a kibbutz near Rosh Pina. Last Pesah I invited her and her family to dinner at a local eatery. She is married to a British immigrant. She has a son in the Army and a teen-age daughter. She heads the volunteer border guards for the northern frontier. Altogether a model citizen whom I had rescued from the grasping claws of the Ministtry.
Had Noam Chomsky used his cell phone to call reporters in Jerusalem and had reporters asked the Ministry, “Why are you holding Noam Chomsky at Allenby Bridge?” the outcome might have been different.
The Ministry is accustomed to refusing entry to friends of Palestinians without interference by reporters. Members of the Christian Peacemakers Team who reside among Palestinians in Hebron and At-Twani arrive in Israel on tourist visas good for three months. They leave on time but many are turned away at Ben Gurion airport when they try to return the following year.
Recently, the most popular clown in Spain, who had planned a show for Palestinians, was stopped at the airport and returned to Spain. The stink in Spain gave a big boost to the growing movement to boycott Israeli universities.
That hardly bothers Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Orthodox Party. Shas voters are not university graduates.
The Chomsky affair came on the heels of Yishai’s cruel campaign against the children of illegal immigrants, those who overstayed their visas and are usually well entrenched in their illegal jobs as caretakers and personal maids.
There are over a thousand such children in Israel and last October Minister Yishai announced that he would deport all of them.
The brutality of attacking children and separating families aroused the press and public. Yishai backtracked slightly. He agreed to wait until the end of the school year and an interministerial committee was appointed to make recommendations for the future.
The end of the school year is approaching and no recommendations have been forthcoming. The children are in limbo.
Etta Prince-Gibson, editor of the Jerusalem Report, tells the story of one of them whom she calls Kimberly. It moved me to tears.
Kimberly was born in Tel Aviv 15 years ago to a young black maid from Ghana who became pregnant. Kimberly has never left Israel. Her first language is Hebrew. On the basis of excellent grades she was admitted to a prestigious Tel Aviv high school.
She is very active in the scouts. She is part of a scout troupe of entertainers who are going abroad this summer to raise funds for the scouts. She won’t be able to go because she has no passport. This breaks her heart.
Asked what she would say to Minister Yishai she replied:
“A few weeks ago we learned about Passover in the school. We learned that it symbolizes freedom, liberty for everyone. Everyone is happy that we have a Jewish state, a homeland. But why, just because my mother was born in Ghana, can’t I be part of it?”
The Israeli voter must find the answer to this black native Israeli teen. End the race-pure Orthodox monopoly on the Ministry of Interior would be my answer.
Lurie is a freelance writer based in Delray Beach, Florida
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