Jennifer Gorovitz of the New Israel Fund
Jennifer Gorovitz of the New Israel Fund

Former S.F. Federation head Jennifer Gorovitz detained at Ben-Gurion Airport for ‘security-related’ reasons

Jennifer Gorovitz, the former CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and currently a vice president of the New Israel Fund, was detained for questioning at Ben-Gurion Airport by Immigration Authority police.

Gorovitz, who had arrived in Israel to attend the NIF’s executive committee meeting, said that she was detained on Feb. 8 for about 90 minutes and underwent three rounds of questioning, during which she was asked to give details about the New Israel Fund’s activities and the funding that it transfers to Israeli NGOS. This is the first time a senior NIF official has been detained at the airport.

NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch, also in Israel for the meeting, was outraged, telling J., “I don’t know if this was the work of an ideological overzealous passport control person who decided to engage in a personal witch hunt against a loyal liberal Zionist who has devoted her life to Israel, or the beginning of a coordinated campaign from high above. Either way, it’s an extremely troubling sign of the times.”

Like Gorovitz, Sokatch is a former CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Gorovitz, 50, joined the NIF in 2015, after serving for a decade in various positions in San Francisco’s Jewish community, most recently as CEO of the S.F.-based Federation. She stepped down from Federation in March 2014, and now serves as the NIF’s vice president for operations and administration.

Gorovitz said that she was standing at the passport control line and when her turn arrived she told the border control officer that she was in Israel on business. When she was asked where she worked, she said she worked for Shatil, the NIF division that advises nonprofit organizations, and that it advises civil society groups in Israel.

That’s when the routine questioning got complicated. According to Gorovitz, the border control officer asked her if she worked with Palestinian NGOs, and she said that her organization works with all Israeli citizens. He asked her if she planned to do any work in the territories, and she said no, but he didn’t seem to believe her.

She said she gave the officer details of the hotel she’d be staying at, contact information for senior NIF officials she was planning to meet, and the address of the NIF offices in Jerusalem.

Gorovitz said that she asked the border control official if there was any problem, saying that she was Jewish and a Zionist, but that the officer made a sarcastic remark about her Zionism. He asked her to wait in a nearby room, where she underwent further questioning.

While she was questioned, Gorovitz saw that her interviewer was holding a document with a considerable amount of information about her. One of the words highlighted on the document was BDS.

“She asked me what the New Israel Fund does and I told her we finance organizations in civil society in Israel and that we object to BDS. She asked me who we finance, and then asked me to wait outside,” she said.

After a few more minutes of waiting, Gorovitz was sent to a third round of questioning. This time she was questioned by two men in civilian clothing who also did not identify themselves or say to which state body they belong. “They asked the same questions that were asked in the first two rounds of questioning, including the one about the Israeli NGOs that the NIF funds. After a few more minutes they released me and let me enter Israel,” she said.

NIF President Talia Sasson contacted the Immigration Authority and asked why Gorovitz was detained. Gorovitz said Sasson was told the detention stemmed from security-related considerations.

“Questioning at Ben Gurion Airport by the Immigration Authority is a step before preventing entry to Israel,” said Gabi Lasky, an Israeli lawyer contacted by NIF to look into the case. “This situation is extremely rare for a Jewish person, who can live in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return. It’s very strange to detain such a person for questioning to find out if he or she can enter or not for a civil society conference. It’s wacky. When I contacted the Immigration Authority they knew immediately who I was talking about and a few minutes later they let her go.”

Sasson added that, “detaining a senior NIF official and former head of the San Francisco Federation at the entrance to Israel is a serious act aimed at intimidating a social activist because of her activities for Israel and Israeli society. The Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu, has been persecuting Israeli human rights activists for some time now. Now this policy is being directed at diaspora Jews as well.”

The spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority, Sabine Hadad, said in response, “The passenger, who raised the border inspectors’ suspicion, as occasionally happens, was taken for brief questioning and released. Altogether she was detained for about an hour. Beyond that, it’s not clear where the inaccurate facts were taken from, in view of the fact that the issue of BDS wasn’t mentioned and wasn’t the reason for the questioning.”

Sokatch considers the incident a warning, saying, “Today it’s NIF. Tomorrow it’s [the Union for Reform Judaism] or J Street. It’ll be anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the ideological purity being embodied by [the Israeli government].”

J. Staff contributed to this report.

Barak Ravid