Amira Hass reports:
With regard to a young American Jew named Harald Fuller-Bennett, the Taglit-Birthright project to some extent achieved its goal. The project brings young Jews from around the world for a trip in Israel “in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people,” to quote its own words. And indeed, about two years after coming on a Taglit-Birthright tour, Fuller-Bennett intended to visit Israel again.
But this time, the people working to diminish the distance between him and Israel were two Tel Aviv lawyers, Omer Shatz and Iftach Cohen, and Jerusalem District Court Judge Yoram Noam. Together, they overturned a bizarre attempt by the Shin Bet security service to accuse him of having connections with terrorists and intending to convert to Islam – for which reasons it barred him from entering Israel for 10 years.
Fuller-Bennett is now 30 years old. On his Taglit-Birthright tour in January 2008, he said, “I gained a lot of sympathy for Israelis and for the multitude of challenges they face (and the many mistakes the government is currently making in facing them ). We had a number of engaging Israeli military members on our bus. I am still Facebook friends with some of them. My conversations with them taught me much about the complexity of modern Israel, and the difficulty of being born into a state with a siege mentality.”
Fuller-Bennett joined a group within the Taglit program called “Peace, Pluralism and Social Justice.” He is not certain that this subgroup of Taglit is still active, but the fact of its existence shows the organizers recognized that there are young Jews whose interest in Israel has not eliminated their capacity for criticism. “We had questions about Israel but wanted to see for ourselves,” Fuller-Bennett said.
But it was not his participation in Taglit’s “most lefty, peacenik” group, as Fuller-Bennett defines it, that made the Shin Bet decide this employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was dangerous.
That happened on May 2, 2010, when he and his girlfriend (now his fiancee ) landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport for a week-long visit to Israel. This would have been his third visit to the country. But to their astonishment, after his passport was stamped for entry, he was taken aside, interrogated and put on a plane back to the United States. The fresh stamp was crossed out with two diagonal lines and the additional stamp: “Denied Entry.”