SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 11, 2019

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Columbia University | Harvard University | New York University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 11, 2019, US authorities prevented Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, from traveling to the United States of America, where he was scheduled to speak at a few universities and meet with journalists and policymakers.

Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights activist, Columbia University alumnus, and co-founder of the BDS movement, which seeks, among other things, Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return. Critics of BDS have charged that, if effected, the movement’s goals would result in the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. Barghouti was invited by the Arab American Institute to speak at New York University’s (NYU) Washington, DC campus. While in the US, he was also scheduled to speak at NYU’s New York campus, Harvard University, and a bookstore in Philadelphia, and to meet with policymakers and journalists, and attend his daughter’s wedding.

On April 11, airline staff at the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel reportedly told Barghouti that US immigration officials informed the US Consulate in Tel Aviv to prevent him from traveling to the US. Authorities reportedly said the ban was due to an “immigration matter,” despite Barghouti’s valid travel documents and visa.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a restriction on travel as a means of limiting the international exchange of ideas, including nonviolent expression on university campuses — conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from interfering with and retaliating against the peaceful exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and other related rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.