On Sunday, April 29, 2018, Katherine Franke, a professor of law, gender and sexuality from Columbia University Law School, was detained, interrogated, and ultimately deported, shortly after arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, as part of a 20-person delegation of United States civil rights leaders. Three other members of the delegation were deported with her, including Vincent Warren, executive director of New York’s Center for Constitutional Rights.
In addition to meeting with civil rights advocates and leaders in Israel and Palestine, Professor Franke was traveling in her academic capacity, having planned meetings with graduate students in Israel and the West Bank, and with NGO partners with whom she collaborates on academic programs. According to Professor Franke, when she was taken into custody at the airport, she explained to the officer who interrogated her that she had travelled to Israel numerous times previously in academic and similar capacities. Professor Franke has recounted that the officer accused her of lying, and insisted that she was in Israel to promote the movement for Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and that she worked for Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP, a US-based organization that has institutionally endorsed the call for BDS) — claims that she denied. An unnamed spokesman for the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry reportedly told reporters that Professor Franke had been refused entry because of the “prominent role” she plays with JVP.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on academic and related travel based on a scholar’s perceived ideology or anticipated expressive activity. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, of which the cross-border exchange of ideas is a core component, and not to interfere with non-violent, expressive activity by scholars, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly.