TEL AVIV – An American student, the granddaughter of Palestinians who was head of a chapter of the anti-Israel groups Students for Justice in Palestine, is appealing to an Israeli court for being refused entry into Israel over her alleged activities in the boycott movement against the Jewish state.
Lara Alqasem, who arrived on Tuesday with a valid student visa and was enrolled to study human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has appealed the decision Thursday before a court in Tel Aviv.
She is being held at Ben Gurion Airport while she awaits the judge’s ruling. Israeli authorities said the 22-year-old is free to go back home to the U.S. Alqasem was also told she must renounce any involvement with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement if she hopes to be allowed to enter the country.
Last year, Israel passed legislation barring entry for anyone who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”
Alqasem is the former president of the University of Florida chapter of SJP, a rabidly anti-Israel campus group.
According to the Times of Israel, Alqasem argued in her appeal to the court that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future. “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.”
“She was accepted by the university, got a visa from the ministry of interior,” Ben-Hillel said. “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 organization she may or may not be linked to.”
Ben-Hillel was responding to a charge from the state’s lawyers saying that she’d marked “attending” on two events hosted by SJP but the pages had been deleted since.
Alqasem’s family charged Israel with exaggerating her involvement in SJP, saying she only belonged to the campus group for a semester. In an interview from Florida, her mother, Karen Alqasem, said, “She may have been critical of some of Israel’s policies in the past but she respects Israeli society and culture. To her, this isn’t a contradiction.”
However, Canary Mission, a website tracking anti-Semitism on college campuses, reported that Alqasaem was the “2016-2017 president and primary contact for Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida.”
The site claimed that she was involved in a 2016 event calling for the boycott of Sabra Hummus, partly an Israeli company, in which baseless accusations of Israel’s “apartheid” policies and “ethnic cleansing” were made.
Hebrew University, which joined Alqasem in her appeal, said that denying her entry was only causing more damage to the anti-boycott cause. Foreign students should be encouraged to spend time in Israel so that they could assist in the fight against the BDS movement on their return home, the university said.
“She wants to come here and learn. … She says she’s coming to study for a year,” the university’s president, Prof. Asher Cohen, said. “That activity of hers is against BDS.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said Students for Justice in Palestine is an extremist organization. “We don’t want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and destroy us,” he said this week.
Lior Haiat, the consul general of Israel in Miami, told the Miami Herald that he couldn’t understand why someone seeking the boycott of Israel would wish to study in the country.
“Every country has the sovereign right to decide who is admitted to enter its borders. Once we realized that Ms. Alqasem is involved in anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activities through the BDS movement, she was denied entry. She appealed to the Israeli courts and the case is still being reviewed,” he said. “We find it ironic that someone who calls on the indiscriminate boycott of Israel, as a tool to harm and destroy the State of Israel, wishes to study in the very country which they call to boycott.”