Israel detains a US graduate student over her pro-Palestinian views

This undated photo provided by the Alqasem family shows Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student, who is being detained in Israel for allegedly supporting a boycott against the country.
This undated photo provided by the Alqasem family shows Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student, who is being detained in Israel for allegedly supporting a boycott against the country.

Israel has detained an American graduate student at Ben Gurion International Airport for more than a week, accusing her of supporting the Palestinian-led boycott movement of Israel.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old of Palestinian heritage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arrived in Israel on a student visa to attend Jerusalem’s Hebrew University but never made it out of the airport after she was found to have ties to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS, her lawyer, Leora Bechor, said.
“There was no justification to deny her [entry at the airport] when they could have made their decision at the time her student visa was to be issued,” Bechor told CNN. “Someone with a visa in hand places their faith in the government’s decision, so if the government plans to revoke a visa it has already issued, it must be held accountable.”
Alqasem has been held in a detention facility at the airport since arriving in Israel on October 2. She has access to a phone but cannot receive visits except from her lawyers, Bechor said.
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which handles BDS cases, called Alqasem a “prominent activist” who met the criteria of being refused entry into Israel.
In a statement to CNN, Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said: “Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel’s destruction.”
The ministry added that Alqasem is free to return to the United States anytime. Bechor said her client still hopes to attend the university and wants to fight the ministry’s decision in Israel, not as a BDS protest, but because she can’t afford to fly back and forth while the case continues.

University support

A US Embassy official told CNN: “We are following the case and have provided consular services to Ms. Alqasem.”
At the US State Department briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters: “It’s ultimately up to the government of Israel, or any country for that matter, to decide which individuals, which Americans, it wants to let in.”
Hebrew University’s academic senate condemned Alqasem’s detention and called for her immediate release.
“The arbitrary denial of the entry into the country of Alqasem with a visa that was approved by the consul of Israel is something which will deter researchers and students from the world coming to Israel,” Hebrew University Rector Barak Medina said in a statement.
The case highlights Israel’s efforts to block supporters of BDS. A 2017 law allows the Interior Ministry to decide if boycott activists will be granted visas or residency permits. Alqasem’s case is the first to be decided under the new law, according to Bechor.
Within the Israeli government, there are indications of unease over the detention.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Oren questioned the decision, saying in a statement: “I have said this in the past and I will repeat it again: The policy that is being implemented now is clearly causing us political damage. So the officials responsible for its enforcement must carefully examine whether Lara Alqasem really does support BDS. Is her presence in the country for the advancement of causes that are harmful and dangerous to our security?”
He called for a re-examination of the policy “in order to protect ourselves and our image as a democratic and enlightened society.”

Expulsion stayed

The night before her planned deportation last Friday, an immigration tribunal issued a ruling staying her forced departure. The case will be heard again in Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday morning. A judge could make a decision either way, or postpone the ruling.
On Tuesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Erdan tweeted that Alqasem would be allowed to enter Israel if she apologizes for heading a branch of a boycott organization and admits that “she made a mistake in the past and that she believes today that support for boycott of Israel and BDS is a mistake and is illegitimate…”
While Alqasem has yet to respond to the offer, it is unlikely that she will accept it, her lawyer told CNN, even though she sought to downplay Alqasem’s previous role in the BDS movement.
“She will not claim that it is an illegitimate form of protest,” Bechor told CNN. “It would be intellectually dishonest for her to say that it is an illegitimate form of protest.”
  • Arzna

    The irony here is that Lara Alqasem came to Israel to study justice

  • Rascal

    What are her intentions in Israel? If she is a hater, is it possible she was there to further her anti-Israel protests? To create tension and trouble? If that is the case she should expect a cool welcome.
    This is the point of the news in question — “It’s ultimately up to the government of Israel, or any country for that matter, to decide which individuals, which Americans, it wants to let in.”

    • Arzna

      If he intention was to study justice as her professor said, she then had a noble reason to visit . Israel gave her a visa to enter the country . Was that to trick her to come and arrest her on arrival before entering the country ?

    • Arzna

      Are you trying to say that a country like Israel that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East cannot tolerate the presence of one unarmed peaceful university graduate student activist? I feel sorry for such a country

      • Rascal

        She does look very jewish, but every country has that right. It is a privilege not a right to enter any country. The US and Canada do it all the time. Again, I see your point, but if she was trying to make a point with her anti-Israel policy, she should try to recant her previous opinions, but if she maintains her hate policy than she can find somewhere else to do her studies that she hates less. I can guarantee she would be welcome in Iran, she should go study there.

      • Niemals

        What a cliche “one unarmed peaceful university graduate student activist”.

        You forgot already how Lebanon is treating its own people that visited Israel.
        You should feel sorry for such a country.

    • Niemals
  • Niemals

    It is more than obvious that Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old US citizen with Palestinian grandparents is making a havoc with this ‘action’.
    The irony here is that Hebrew University’s academic senate condemned Alqasem’s detention and called for her immediate release, at the same time The Electronic Intifada asks the question – “Is Lara Alqasem undermining Palestinian boycott campaign?”

    According to The Electronic Intifada Alqasem has become a cause celebre for liberal and right-wing Zionists.

    She has received visits from lawmakers of Israel’s leftist Meretz party, which like its right-wing Zionist counterparts opposes any return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel because they are not Jews.

    Hebrew University, an institution complicit in theft of Palestinian land and other forms of discrimination, and which opposes the BDS movement, has asked to join her legal appeal.

    And on the opinion page of The New York Times, Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens, two right-wing, staunchly pro-Israel columnists, have also rallied to Alqasem’s defense.

    “Israelis have good reason to see the BDS campaign as a thinly veiled form of bigotry,” the columnists write, smearing it as akin to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. They also attempt to tie Students for Justice in Palestine to terrorism, another gross smear.

    It is extremely easy to add more fuel to the hate, and this known provocateur dose it again with the help of this Dr Ashr Ezzat…..

  • MaryTPresumptuous

    There is no irony in purporting to enter Israel to study justice if one is a BDS advocate. And there is no fault in her being denied entry.

    Look at it this way: If Salman Rushdie traveled to Iran purporting to visit and study key sites from Islamic history, would Iran be castigated for denying him freedom of motion around the former Persian empire? (You do recall that there is a fatwā outstanding that calls for his execution …) Isn’t it more likely that, in the event of his contemporaneous murder, that the outspoken few would simply say “he knew in advance, he acted foolishly, and so he deserves what he got”?

    • Arzna

      I cannot believe you are comparing The famous author of the Satanic Verses to a peaceful university graduate student activist who obtained a visa from the Israeli government to visit the country to study Justice . I don’t think there was ever any fatwa in Israel to execute the American graduate student at Ben Gurion International Airport upon arrival like Rushdie would have faced had he ever tried to enter Iran or any other country under its control. Even her Jewish professors in Florida called for her immediate release . I thought you were smarter than that Mary !!! Try harder next time…LOL

      • MaryTPresumptuous

        Except for her lack of accomplishment, the two situations are exactly analogous:

        * two individuals each of whose offense is a matter of words, not actions prohibited by law

        * two individuals who are at liberty in their own country to say, do, and move about the world as they please

        * two individuals who (barring the possibility of extra-territorial killings by agents acting for Iran) will only feel the force of the law for their words were they to choose to travel to the local jurisdiction where they know in advance they are likely to be subject to judicial proceeding

        Where is the essential difference you see as obvious and that escapes students of the law?

        There is none.

        • Arzna

          You did it again Mary!!
          You are comparing one of the most famous writers in the world to a student . Give me a break. Grow up Mary

        • Hind Abyad

          “Analysis / Is Israel’s anti-BDS Detention Policy Stupid, Evil – or Both?
          The ongoing uproar over Lara Alqasem shows that the self-inflicted damage to Israel’s good name is escalating exponentially – which suits Netanyahu just fine”