American authorities have sparked controversy after denying entry to a prominent Palestinian human rights activist.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, was barred from boarding his flight from Israel to the United States, despite holding valid travel documents.
"This U.S. 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," Barghouti said in a statement.
Israel has previously restricted Barghouti's ability to exit and enter the occupying state by refusing to renew his Israeli travel document.
"The de facto travel ban is part of long-standing attacks by the Israeli authorities on Omar Barghouti that aim at preventing him from carrying out campaigning work," Amnesty International wrote in a statement back in February.
Though his travel document has been renewed, Barghouti's freedom of movement continues to be infringed upon.
The Arab American Institute (AAI) had invited him to Washington to take part in several speaking engagements and educational programs. He was scheduled to participate in public events at New York University and Harvard University, as well as meet prominent policymakers and journalists. Following his speaking tour, Barghouti was set to attend his daughter's wedding in the U.S.
However, upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on April 10, Barghouti was informed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had denied him entry to the U.S. due to an "immigration matter."
Barghouti, who has a master's degree from Columbia University and spent a decade in the U.S. in the 1980s, holds a U.S. visa valid until 2021.
Despite his inability to travel, Barghouti will participate in the scheduled events via Skype.
"Despite this repression, we shall prevail," Barghouti assured in his statement. As for missing his daughter's wedding ceremony, he said, "I am hurt but I am not deterred."
"It is clear this arbitrary political decision is motivated by this administration's [U.S. President Donald Trump's administration] effort to silence Palestinian voices," AAI President James Zogby said in a statement.
Speaking to reporters about the matter, spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, Robert Palladino, said he cannot discuss details of the case, as visa records are confidential under U.S. law.
"U.S. law does not authorize the refusal of visas based solely on political statements or views if those statements or views would be lawful in the United States, no matter how distasteful or objectionable some may find those statements or views," Palladino said, according to The Guardian.
Meanwhile, Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which handles Israel's efforts to combat the BDS movement, has reportedly denied having any connection to the incident.
This comes as the U.S. has been cracking down on BDS activism. Since 2014, at least 107 measures have been implemented in state or local legislatures across the country and five executive orders have been issued to condemn, punish, and impede advocacy for Palestinian rights, according to Palestine Legal. As of April 2019, 27 states have adopted anti-boycott laws.
This February, the U.S. Senate passed a bill allowing state governments to refuse to do business with companies that boycott Israel.
As per the proposed bill, which is yet to be voted upon by the House of Representatives, states are authorized to take measures against such entities. Opponents of the bill, mainly members of the Democratic Party, argue that the bill threatens free-speech rights.