Despite having lived in Israel for 22 years with no criminal record of any kind, Omar Barghouti was this week denied the right to travel outside the country. As one of the pioneers of the increasingly powerful movement to impose boycotts, sanctions and divestment measures (BDS) on Israel, Barghouti, an articulate, English-speaking activist, has frequently traveled around the world advocating his position. The Israeli government’s refusal to allow him to travel is obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.”

As the husband of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Barghouti holds a visa of permanent residency in the country, but nonetheless needs official permission to travel outside of Israel, a travel document which – until last week – had been renewed every two years. Haaretz this week reported that beyond the travel ban, Barghouti’s “residency rights in Israel are currently being reconsidered.”

The travel denial came after months of disturbing public threats directed at him by an Israeli government that has grown both more extreme and more fearful of BDS’s growing international popularity. In March, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency rights, explicitly admitting that this was in retaliation for his speech and advocacy: “he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner . . . . he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told The Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.” She added: “Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

But the threats to Barghouti from the Israeli Government extend far beyond his right to travel. Last month, Amnesty International issued an extraordinary warning that the group “is concerned for the safety and liberty” of Barghouti, citing threats from Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence. As Amnesty noted, “the term alludes to ‘targeted assassinations’ which is used to describe Israel’s policy of targeting members of Palestinian armed groups.”

As The Intercept has regularly reported over the last year, the attempts to criminalize BDS activism – not only in Israel but internationally – is one of the greatest threats to free speech and assembly rights in the west. The threat has become particularly acute on U.S. college campuses, where official punishments for pro-Palestinian students are now routine. But obviously, the threats faced by Barghouti inside Israel are far more severe.

Regardless of one’s views on BDS and the Israeli occupation, anyone who purports to believe in basic conceptions of free speech rights should be appalled by Israeli behavior. I spoke with Barghouti yesterday about this latest Israeli attack on his core civil liberties, the growing extremism in Israel, and broader trends with free speech and BDS activism. “I am unnerved,” he told me, “but I’m certainly undeterred.” You can listen to the 25-minute discussion on the player below; a full transcript appears below that.
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