Glenn Greenwald and Israel’s booming anti-Zionism tourism trade

Glenn Greenwald’s ‘Comment is Free’ post on April 13 concerns a bill circulating through the US Congress which would allow Israel into America’s “visa waiver program”, permitting Israel to join with 37 other countries whose citizens are permitted to travel to the US without a visa.  The bill evidently includes a clause which would allow Israel’s entrance into the visa waiver program with the stipulation that Israel won’t have to allow in US citizens who may “jeopardize the security of the State of Israel”, while otherwise ensuring that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all.

Greenwald’s antagonists in the tale are AIPAC and the bill’s supporters in Congress, who he accuses of prioritizing the interests of Israel over those of US citizens. His protagonists, opposing the bill, include Mike Coogan of the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, and Mitchell Plitnick, former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem, 

Greenwald characterizes the bill as “pro-discrimination”, and quotes Ron Kampeas claiming that the clause will allow Israel to continue the ‘practice of routinely refusing to allow Americans of Arab ethnicity or Muslim backgrounds to enter their country’.  However, other than one anecdotal example of a Palestinian-American evidently being denied entrance into Israel, neither Greenwald nor Kampeas cite statistics to demonstrate a pattern of such discrimination, nor explore the question of how many were denied entry for legitimate security reasons.  

Instead, Greenwald cites this passage from a US travel advisory:

Some US citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card, or of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank.

Not content with the advisory’s carefully worded message regarding the “difficulties” which “some” US citizens have evidently faced “in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank”, Greenwald further claims that “Israel also bars those who are critical of Israeli actions or supportive of Palestinian rights“.

Greenwald provides exactly two examples, in the links embedded in the text, to back up his definitive statement that “Israel bars” critics of Israel – a 2008 case involving Norman Finkelstein (which was related to his contact with Hezbollah) and a 2010 case involving Noam Chomsky.

Note that Greenwald didn’t merely claim that “Israel has barred some who are critical of Israeli actions”, or similarly restrained language, but rather suggested a pattern of barring critics of Israel – a claim which is contradicted by, among other factors, the fact Israel is saturated with pro-Palestinian activists (and critical journalists) from other countries.   

“Progressive” tours for foreigners wishing to see Israel through a pro-Palestinian perspective include the following:

  • Alternative Tours: “Operating out of the Jerusalem Hotel (near Damascus Gate), Alternative Tours offers trips in and around Jerusalem as well as to various West Bank cities, including Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, Nablus and Qalqiliya. The tours include stops at religious and historical sites and visits with local institutions and people”.

Here’s the image on their home page to get a sense of their priorities:


  • Alternative Tourism Group (ATG): “ATG is a Palestinian NGO that specializes in touring that critically examines the history and politics of The Holy Land.  ATG is founded on the tenets of justice tourism, which are based on the goals of economic benefit for the local population, environmental protection, productive exchanges between host and guest through one-on-one interactions, and political/historical education.  Tours visit Palestinian and Israeli cities and villages, settlements, refugee camps, and/or Bedouin camps, and can include conversations with leading activists and educators, as well as interfaith encounters”.

ATG also explains on their website that foreign tourists will see Israeli ‘Apartheid’ and ‘Colonialism’ first hand.

On ATG’s page with ‘Practical Info‘ for foreign participants, there’s no warning for travellers on restrictions imposed on their entry by Israeli authorities, and the following photo appears on their site, showing a group of ATG participants in a Palestinian village planting olive trees:


  • Breaking the Silence: BtS, active in promoting “war crimes” charges against Israel after the Gaza war in 2009, is “comprised of veteran Israeli soldiers, and leads tours to Hebron as well as to South Hebron Hills”.

Here’s the image on the website of BtS (an Israeli NGO generously funded by the European Union) advertising their Passover tour of Israel.


  • Holy Land Trust: HLT “offers study tours of the West Bank and Israeli cities, including: Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Beer Sheva, Nazareth, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian refugee camps.  You will have the opportunity to meeting with community leaders, politicians, and activists on both sides of the conflict”.

Registration is now open for Holy Land Trust’s 2013 Summer ‘Palestine Encounter’.  

Evidently, these 2012 participants of the summer ‘encounter’ had no difficulty entering the country:


  • Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD): ICAHD, an NGO which uses rhetoric including accusations of “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “collective punishment,” and “apartheid” against Israel, “offers tours that trace the separation barrier and the roads and tunnels separating the settlements from Palestinian cities and villages, and visit the sites of demolished homes in East Jerusalem”.  Twice a year, “ICAHD offers an intensive ten-day study trip in which participants have the opportunity to meet people from both sides of the divide and gain in-depth knowledge on the latest analysis of the conflict”. 
Jeff Halper leads an ICAHD Jerusalem Tour
ICAHD director Jeff Halper leads a tour
  • Palestinian Solidarity Project (PSP): “PSP offers “one-day trips focusing on settlement, land confiscation, nonviolent resistance, and prisoner issues in the Beit Ommar area.”

The page at PSP where the following photo of pro-Palestinian activists planting olive trees appears notes that “a group of 25 internationals accompanied by two farmers went to the farm land of Ali Ayad Awad, which lies beside the barrier fence on the north side of Karmie Tzur settlement.”


  • Zochrot: Zochrot is an NGO which promotes the unlimited Palestinian ‘right of return’ and,through tours of destroyed Palestinian villages in Israel (from 1948), aims to introduce the Palestinian Nakba into the collective consciousness.  Tours are led by Palestinian refugees and their families in conjunction with Zochrot staff.”
Zochrot tour in the West Bank


Here are two ISM activists who got past Israeli border control and arrived ‘safely’ at their destination (posing with Palestinian terrorists):


While it’s impossible to know how many of the record 3.5 millions tourists who visited Israel in 2012 (who brought $4.6 billion into the Israeli economy) were anti-Zionist activists, it seems that, contrary to Greenwald’s claims, foreign travelers who are “critical of Israeli actions” or “supportive of Palestinian rights” don’t have too hard of a time gaining entry into the state.  

If there is a concerted effort by Israeli authorities to bar anti-Zionist activists from entering the country, they’re obviously doing a very poor job.

(This post was updated several hours after publication, and an incorrect statistic originally cited was removed. – A.L.)

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