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Israel to Close Borders to Backers of Pro-Arab Boycott

FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2012, French demonstrators and supporters of Palestinians hold a placard with the word "Boycott" during a demonstration in Paris.

The Israeli parliament has passed a bill that bars entry to the country for foreigners involved in an anti-Israel boycott.

The new law aims to exclude activists and backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS, which supporters say is a nonviolent way to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence. The group has urged businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel and includes thousands of volunteers around the world.

BDS activists and supporters will be denied entry visas and residence permits, but the new legislation does not apply to Israeli citizens or foreigners who already have permanent residency in the country.

Israel sees the boycott as a strategic threat and brands it as anti-Semitism. Activists deny the charge, saying they only want to see Israel end its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Defending the law, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Tuesday, "Every country has the right to determine who enters its borders."

Excluding anti-Israel activists, he added, is "another step in our struggle against those who seek to delegitimize Israel while hiding behind the language of human rights."

Critics, however, have assailed the law as an infringement of free speech rights.

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott movement, said Israel's reaction is self-defeating - "an Israeli regime own goal par excellence," as he put it.

"It is not a requirement or a necessity for human-rights defenders and groups supporting BDS to enter the country to do their work effectively,'' Barghouti said. "If anything, banning them from entry will further motivate them to increase their work."

Americans for Peace Now, the U.S. branch of Israel's anti-settlement Peace Now group, called the law a "severe blow to Israeli democracy.''

The group said its opposition to settlements is rooted in its support for Israel. It believes that Israel's continued occupation of land containing millions of Palestinians threatens the country's Jewish and democratic character.