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US student challenges Israeli entry ban over alleged BDS support

American Lara Alqasem sits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

A US student who was barred from entering Israel over her alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the country appeared in court on Thursday to challenge the decision.

Lara Alqasem, 22, was barred entry to Israel last Tuesday despite having been granted a student visa by the Israeli consulate in Miami to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Israel’s Population Immigration and Border Authority initially said the decision to bar Alqasem’s entry was due to her “boycott activity” while officials from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs claimed Alqasem was a member of the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) campus group, which calls for boycotting Israel over its policies towards Palestinians.

She has been held at an immigration facility since her arrival at Ben Guiron Airport last week, choosing to challenge the entry ban rather than fly back to the United States. Israel has disputed that she is being “detained” saying that she reserves the right to fly back to the US at any point and allow attorneys to handle legal proceedings on her behalf.

Alqasem's lawyers argued Thursday that she was only briefly associated with SJP and though she served as the president of her campus' branch of the national organization from 2016-2017, it was nonetheless a nominal role.

"By choosing to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- at the center of those who boycott Israel -- she has proven she opposes BDS," they said.

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

"She was accepted by the university, got a visa from the ministry of interior," said Alqasem's lawyer Yotam Ben Hilel.

"Now she is barred on the basis of searches in Google in which they found scraps of information she may or may not have said and an organisation she may or may not be linked to."

State lawyers charged in response that Alqasem was active in SJP, whose national chapter is an active proponent of BDS, for a period of four years. They also raised suspicion regarding her deleting various parts of her social media presence since her arrival in Israel.

In a rare move, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- where Alqasem had intended to spend a year studying -- requested to join her appeal and the university senate released a statement calling to permit her entry to the country. During the appeal hearing on Thursday, the university said that the case hurts Israel's fight against boycotts when in fact her entry could help strengthen Israel's fight. 

"We also need to understand that the revocation of the visa on her arrival in Israel has serious implications for the decision of students and researchers who are considering studying in Israel," the university representatives argued, according to Haaretz, while stressing the loss of credibility for visas issued by Israeli consulates. 

"They will say ‘the visa we received legally doesn’t promise entry’ – and they are changing their lives for it.”

Israel’s Strategic Affairs minister Gilad Erdan has said that he would review the deportation order against Alqasem if she were to publicly denounce BDS, but defended Israel’s handling of her case.

The US State Department has said that the American embassy in Jerusalem has offered consular assistance to the Florida student of Palestinian descent.

(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Erdan on Wednesday dismissed backlash, telling The Associated Press "we are doing whatever we believe that is right for the security of the state of Israel and that is more important than whatever the New York Times or other newspapers around the world will say about our policy."

Two outspoken Jewish conservative New York Times journalists aired their criticism of Israel in a piece published Wednesday entitled "Why Is Israel Scared of This Young American?"

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement condemning Israel’s decision, calling it “the ugliest form of political terrorism.”

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the liberal Jewish lobby group J Street on Wednesday joined calls for Israel to permit Alqasem’s entry to Israel, characterizing her deportation as undemocratic.

"The Reform Movement categorically opposes BDS. But at the same time, we believe this type of blunt and short-sighted approach toward activists who pose no security threat is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment to an open and free democracy," URJ said.

“Targeting BDS supporters — or those who merely have critical political views — and banning them from entering Israel does not counter their arguments or stem the global tide of concern for the Palestinian people. It only undermines Israel’s democracy, international legitimacy and long-term future," J Street wrote in a letter to Erdan.

A professor of Jewish language and culture who taught Alqasem in Florida wrote in a letter to the editor of Israeli newspaper Haaretz that she was "an outstanding student, curious, with an open mind".

Dror Abend-David added that she was "someone who very much wanted to study international relations in Israel to develop her own opinion on the conflict."

Under Israeli law, customs and security officials are allowed to bar individuals who support boycotts of Israel or advocate against Israeli settlements in the West Bank from entering the country.

Alqasem's case is the latest in a series of cases drawing criticism of an Israeli law barring boycott supporters that opponents say violates freedom of expression. Israeli authorities have also come under criticism in recent months over what some have seen as the politically motivated questioning of certain foreigners seeking to enter the country.

Her detention came less than a week after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber said the Shin Bet security service would no longer ask those detained at border crossings about their political views, following a month-long inquiry.

The practice came under scrutiny earlier this year, after two prominent US writers, who are also vocal critics of the Israeli government, detailed their experiences being questioned by the Shin Bet agents while trying to enter the country.



Israel can keep anyone out of their country that they want. so this fakestinian filthy whore can go die in the gaza

Go bk where u came from!

This US student should being get a visa for Isreal when she is the enemy of the state. I wish we could keep her out of the States. Maybe she should live in Iran. She is another female looking for her 15 minutes of fame.... done.

Glad she is barred from here. Shes dishonest about her intentions and a troublemaker. Bye-bye!!!

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