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US denies entry to Palestinian campaigner for Israel boycott

Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, seen here in 2013, was refused entry by the United States
Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, seen here in 2013, was refused entry by the United States BELGA/AFP
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Washington (AFP)

The United States has denied entry to a prominent Palestinian activist who urges boycotting Israel, as a US official on Thursday equated his pressure campaign with anti-Semitism.

Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was not allowed to board a plane Wednesday for a speaking tour that was to include Harvard University, New York University and a left-leaning synagogue in Chicago.

"Israel is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing," Barghouti said in a statement.

"It is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the US and to xenophobic, far-right cohorts across the world," he said.

Barghouti added he had also planned during the trip to attend his US-based daughter's wedding, saying: "I am hurt, but I am not deterred."

The Arab American Institute said that Barghouti had a US visa valid through January 2021 but was informed by airline staff at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport that US authorities had issued instructions denying him the right to travel.

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said that the United States does not explain individual visa decisions.

But without explaining why Barghouti was rejected, Palladino said: "US law does not authorize the refusal of visas based solely on political statements or views if those statements or views would be legal in the United States."

The so-called BDS movement has infuriated Israel by calling for economic, cultural and academic boycotts of the Jewish state, including not buying products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as a way to press Israel to address the plight of Palestinians under occupation.

Elan Carr, the new US envoy to combat anti-Semitism, also said he could not discuss Barghouti's case but branded the BDS movement anti-Semitic.

"An individual has a right to buy or not buy what they please. However, if there is an organized movement to economically strangle the state of Israel, that is anti-Semitic," he told reporters.

While agreeing that criticism of any nation's policies was "entirely proper" in a democracy, Carr said: "If Israel is criticized in a way that no other country in a similar circumstance is criticized, yes, that is anti-Semitism."

President Donald Trump has strongly backed Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has accused his Democratic rivals of anti-Semitism for distancing themselves from the right-wing leader.

Republican lawmakers in US states have increasingly pushed measures that would in turn refuse any government business with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel.

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