Israel defends actions against US student in detention

Sergio Conner
October 12, 2018

An Israeli court on Thursday heard the appeal of an American student against a decision to bar her entry to Israel, even though she had a study visa, over alleged activities supporting an worldwide boycott campaign by pro-Palestinian groups.

But when Alqasem arrived at Tel Aviv's global airport last week, she was blocked from entering the country. Lara Alqasem appeared calm, mostly keeping her hands on her knees during the court hearing, only smiling giddily when she was surrounded by journalists and photographers. She did not speak to reporters during the session. She will remain in detention until the court delivers a ruling; no date for the ruling has been fixed.

"I think we have a good case". "We're talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything", said lawyer Ben-Hillel.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last Tuesday with a valid student visa.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she's an activist in the boycott movement. Her telephone privileges are also limited.

Israel enacted a law a year ago banning entry for any foreigner who "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel". It's come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem's case.

She's a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that has called for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, the AP reported. But Israel says its true goal is to delegitimize and even destroy the country.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Alasqem can return to the United States at any time - and she would be allowed into Israel if she publicly renounced BDS.

"We have clear criteria", he said.

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Students for Justice in Palestine cause disruption at pro-Israel event at UCLA. She had a student visa, intending to study human nights at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Jewish groups in the United States as well as the Hebrew University itself have come to her defense.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that "Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward" and that US-Israel relations are "stronger than ever".

A senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem told ABC News Wednesday that American consular officials had visited Alqasem in detention a couple of times.

At an earlier hearing, Alqasem pledged not to take part in boycott activities while in Israel and said she did not intend to visit the West Bank, her attorneys said.

But he added: "Israel is a sovereign nation that can determine who enters".

There have been several high-profile cases involving the law barring boycott supporters as well as the questioning of foreigners seeking to enter.

The grassroots boycott campaign, known as BDS, has targeted Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities in what it says is nonviolent resistance to unjust and racist Israeli policies. That case is still ongoing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Beinart's questioning was an "administrative mistake". Pompeo said that "we [the USA] are very hopeful that one day the Palestinian people will have the same kinds of things, the same material, the same opportunities that the people of Israel have", according to the Jerusalem Post.

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