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Israel has barred a Israeli academic from taking part in a science symposium in Berlin on Thursday that was part of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Germany, drawing renewed charges that his government has little tolerance for dissent.
An official travelling with Netanyahu said professor and human rights expert Rivka Feldhay was banned from a meeting of Israeli and German scientists because the prime minister did not want to allow the participation of an Israeli “who tarnishes the name of Israeli soldiers and pilots”.
Feldhay signed a petition in 2008 that supported Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in Palestinian territories, the official said.
Feldhay said in an email that she had travelled to Berlin at the invitation of the Israeli embassy in Germany.
After her arrival, the embassy notified Feldhay that the head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, “refused to confirm my participation since I am a critical of the government of Israel”.
In her subsequent communications with government officials, Feldhay said she was attacked as “an enemy of the state”.
“I am amazed that the Council of National Security has found nothing more important in terms of Israeli security than myself,” she said. “It fits other types of regimes than democracy, a regime [where] there is no distinction between opposition to the government and enemies of the state.”
Opposition figures have accused Netanyahu and his political allies of trying to stifle dissent and pluralism through a string of bills brought before parliament.
One of the measures, assailed by Israel’s attorney general and put on hold, would sharply restrict funding for dovish groups.
Others, passed into law, require non-Jewish new citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic state”. They also deny state funding to groups that mourn what Palestinians call “the catastrophe” of Israel’s 1948 creation and punish Israelis who advocate boycotting Jewish settlements.
The government rejects claims that dissent is being quieted, citing Israel’s raucous press and independent courts.
Critics counter that the government has tried to muzzle those institutions as well, saying proposed legislation would undermine the independence of the supreme court, the sole check on the Israeli legislature.
Journalists have warned of an anti-media blitz through political appointments to the country’s public broadcasting system, sidelining prominent critics and an amended libel law that could put a chill on investigative reports.