Israeli authorities detained an American graduate student for a week at their international airport over allegations she supported anti-Israeli boycotts while leading a pro-Palestine group.
Authorities barred 22-year-old Lara Alqasem from entering Israel upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Oct. 2, despite her student visa, and ordered her deportation. Israel cited as reason for deportation Alqasem’s past tenure as president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which it says supports a campaign calling for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. (RELATED: Palestinian Teen Stabs US-Israeli Citizen To Death At West Bank Mall)
Alqasem remains in custody for the duration of her appeal against her deportation. Her detention is the longest on record for any boycott case.
“Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the U.S.,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, according to The Associated Press. “Israel will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”
Erdan said Tuesday, however, that Israel would drop its charges against Alqasem if she apologizes for and renounces her support of BDS.
Alqasem argued in her appeal that she did not actively participate in boycott campaigns with the student group and promised that she would not support BDS going forward. Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she is registered to study human rights, announced Monday that it would support her appeal.
The university’s senate said the institution is “a place for the exchange of ideas and the acquisition and creation of knowledge. It is a place that does not shrink from disagreement and is pleased with a multiplicity of opinions. [Erdan’s] decision not to allow the student into the country merely because of her opinions constitutes a threat against what the university represents,” according to Haaretz.
Erdan responded with a statement saying that Alqasem’s detention was based not on her opinions, but on her alleged past actions to harm Israel.
“The State of Israel does not prohibit the entry of people based on their opinions, but the fact a person is part of the academic community does not excuse him from the letter of the law, and thus foreign academics who act to boycott Israel and harm it – their entry into Israel may be prevented,” Erdan said.
Her former Hebrew professor from the University of Florida, Dror Abend-David, also sent an open letter to Haaretz, saying that Alqasem displayed an “open and positive attitude toward Judaism, Jews, and the state of Israel.”
“We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”
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