Caroline Glick: Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, Lara Alqasem’s Enablers

Lara Alqasem (Jack Guez / Getty)
Jack Guez / Getty

For the past two weeks, Israel-bashers have had a brand-new poster child. Her name is Lara Alqasem.

Alqasem is an American citizen registered in a masters degree program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She is also a key operative in the so-called BDS or “boycott, divestment and sanctions” campaign against Israel.

Alqasem flew to Israel two weeks ago. Upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, in accordance with Israeli law, which bars BDS activists from entering Israel, Alqasem was denied entry and immigration officials attempted to deport her.

Rather than agree to go home, Alqasem called in a battery of attorneys to appeal the decision in court. The move went from one judicial body to another, gathering the force of a massive media storm from day to day until it landed on the laps of three justices in Israel’s radical Supreme Court.

The three justices, who care more about looking good to the Left — and the New York Times — than the law, predictably ignored the law and let her in.

How did an expulsion order against a 22-year-old graduate student cause such a maelstrom? How did it come about that Alqasem was immediately defended by a battery of lawyers? Why did Israel’s leftist media outlets and the world media immediately embrace her as a heroine, and so ensure that Israel’s radical justices would pounce at the opportunity to prove their leftist credentials and let her into the country?

To understand how Lara Alqasem became an instant celebrity for Israel-haters and an attractive victim worth saving for Israeli leftists, we need to understand a few basic truths.

The Israeli government, Alqasem’s many powerful supporters, and Israel’s radical Supreme Court justices agree that Alqasem headed the BDS movement against Israel on her campus.

Until she graduated last spring, Alqasem served as the head of University of Florida’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The Israeli government and Alqasem’s lawyers and supporters (including Israel’s radical justices), differ on what that means.

The BDS movement calls for isolating the world’s largest Jewish community. It does so for two reasons. First, it seeks to build political support in the U.S. and throughout the West for the claim that Jews have no right to self-determination, and that Israel has no right to exist. And second, the BDS movement aims to turn Jews who support Israel’s existence, (that is, approximately 90 percent of world Jewry) into evil Untouchables.

The agenda and goal of the BDS movement are of course inherently bigoted against Jews. Indeed, the BDS campaign is the most active, and the most powerful, antisemitic campaign in the Western world.

So how do BDS operatives prevent their cause from being treated as an intrinsically racist enterprise?

To avoid being recognized and treated like the bigots they are, BDS operatives have adopted multiple means to shield their nature and their goals.

First, they insist that they aren’t boycotting Israel per se. They are boycotting the Israeli government and everyone who is “complicit” with it, (i.e., Jewish).

In other words, they aren’t boycotting Israel, they are boycotting all Jewish Israelis and their Jewish counterparts abroad.

Second, BDS operatives say they aren’t ostracizing Israel and Israelis per se. They are “critiquing” the Jewish state and its citizens. They aren’t trying to shun Israelis from the public square or the marketplace by calling for them to be denied the right to study or teach or present their views freely while studying or teaching. BDS operatives are merely “critiquing” them when they picket their classrooms and work to get Jews kicked out of campus life.

BDS operatives aren’t trying to bankrupt Israeli businesses when they call for universities and city councils to divest from stock in them or remove their products from store shelves and cafeterias. BDS operatives are merely “critiquing” certain policies of the Israeli government.

And BDS operatives aren’t trying to relegate Israelis and their Jewish supporters to ghettos when they intimidate other groups into rejecting cooperation with them. Again, their actions are simply garden variety “critiques” that are eminently reasonable in an open society.

The BDS movement has two areas of operation: Western nations, and Israel.

In the West, BDS operatives use mob actions and intimidation to drive Israelis and their Jewish supporters out of the public square and popularize hatred of Israel and Jews who support it.

In Israel, BDS operations focus on political theater. Operatives use Israel, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, as props and backdrops to stage productions that present Israel and Israeli Jews as evil, and the Jewish state as unworthy of existence. In the past, through the pro-BDS International Solidarity Movement, they have even collaborated with suicide bombers.

Given these modes of operations, BDS operatives like Alqasem who travel to Israel do so for two primary reasons.
First, they want to stage anti-Israel political theater. And second, they want a “went to Israel” credential for their resume. When they leave Israel, they can use their time in Israel as a means to prove that they are “credible.” After all, they know what it’s like. They were there on the ground.

That brings us to Alqasem’s seemingly odd preference for voluntary incarceration at the airport and an international outcry against Israel over a plane ride home — where she would have been free to follow her legal proceedings from her couch, and fly back to Israel at her leisure if she won.

Last year, Israel’s Knesset amended Israel’s immigration law to bar BDS operatives from entering Israel. Given the goal of BDS operations in Israel, the amendment is reasonable. Since the purpose of BDS operations in Israel is to film theatrics whose goal is to demonize Israel, the best way for Israel to undermine the campaign is to bar BDS operatives from entering the country.

Alqasem’s behavior ahead of her trip and since her arrival have made clear that this is the precise purpose of her trip. Before purchasing her plane tickets, Alqasem carefully deleted her social media accounts to make it hard for Israeli immigration authorities to discover her vast record of BDS operations while a student.

When she was apprehended upon entry, Alqasem proceeded to act out her drama. Her demand to be detained rather than fly home, the immediate appearance of her attorneys, and the help from her army of leftist supporters indicate that she and her comrades planned for the possibility that she would be detained pending deportation, and prepared a plan for exploiting it relying on Israel’s leftist media, the international media that are always happy to print a negative story about Israel, and Israel’s radical Supreme Court.

Indeed, now that Alqasem’s appeal of her expulsion order has been accepted by Israel’s Supreme court, it is clear that the main characters in this tale were her many enablers, who quickly and ardently fell for her blatant publicity stunt.

Alqasem’s defenders, failing to recognize that she is a seasoned BDS operative who is using her trip to Israel as a way to advance her hatred for Jews, embrace the lie that the campaign’s bigoted goals and operations are mere “critiques,” and accuse Israel of seeking to squelch dissident opinions.

It isn’t surprising that American Jewish leftists and their Israeli counterparts support Alqasem’s anti-Jewish theater stunt. Doing so advances their personal and group interests even as Alqasem’s actions and aims constitute a formidable threat to their rights and freedoms as Jews. Pretending this is just an argument about freedom of expression enables them to prove their continued value in a movement and a Democratic party that are rapidly abandoning their traditional support for Israel and advancing outspoken Jew haters like Linda Sarsour and Louis Farrakhan.

Criticizing Israel also allows more moderate American Jews to remain Democrats and leftists without feeling guilty. If Israel is to blame, then they don’t need to worry about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with partisan colleagues who burned Israeli flags outside the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and who booed the mention of Jerusalem during the 2012 convention.

The Israeli left, for its part, needs to support antisemites like Alqasem and her racist BDS movement to stay relevant in a country where its numbers are depleted. According to a Pew opinion survey from January 2018, a mere 8 percent of Israeli Jews define themselves as leftists. Israeli leftists have no chance of achieving political power through the ballot box unless they give up their mindless endorsement of every anti-Israel initiative, something they are not ready to do.

Under the circumstances, the easiest way for Israeli leftists to influence government policy is by serving as Israeli faces for the international Left in its efforts to demonize Israel. Among other things, Israeli leftists act as agents for the international left from their positions as lawyers for radical lawfare NGOs funded by the European Union and the radical Jewish Left in the U.S.

Had Alqasem’s appeal been backed only by leftist Jews in the U.S. and leftist Israelis, it is possible that the justices wouldn’t have dared to deny the government’s ability to enforce Israel’s law barring BDS operatives from entering the country.

But her supporters weren’t limited to the Left.

Self-proclaimed  “unhinged Zionists,” former conservatives and current neo-progressives Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss from the New York Times joined Alqasem’s BDS comrades and enablers in bashing Israel for trying to deport her.

In a joint column published last week attacking Israel for its efforts to enforce its immigration law, like their leftist counterparts (and bosses), Stephens and Weiss chose to ignore the inherent antisemitism of the BDS movement and Alqasem’s role in propagating and advancing Jew-hatred. Instead, like the others, they whitewashed her racism and transparent provocation.

Stephens and Weiss are popular targets for leftist enforcers, as onetime conservatives who left their political and ideological camp to take positions at the unabashedly leftist Times editorial page.

In their joint article, Stephens and Weiss regurgitate the Left’s pro-Alqasem’s talking points. Like their new friends, they insist that by barring Alqasem, Israel is undermining its liberal values and alienating its American supporters.

After allowing that the BDS campaign is “a thinly veiled form of bigotry,” Stephens and Weiss then set this key fact aside. They then insisted, irrationally, that BDS is merely a “political view” that any liberal society must import without restriction.

In their words: “Liberal societies thrive not by expelling critics but by tolerating and even assimilating them — and therefore defanging them.”

Again, the truth is the opposite. And Stephens and Weiss know it. Lara Alqasem is a bigoted activist seeking to utilize a trip to Israel for hate propaganda. She isn’t interested in having a debate or “critiquing” Israel.

Western democracies that Stephens and Weiss have never criticized have proudly blocked entry of foreigners for far less than that. The United Kingdom, for instance, publicly denies entry to scholars and activists who oppose totalitarian political Islam and warn of the dangers it poses to Britain and the West.

Like their leftist colleagues, Stephens and Weiss abandoned reason and embraced the BDS subterfuge to advance their own fortunes, while knowing full well that they were also empowering the most powerful antisemitic force in America. Perhaps, now that they’ve thrown Israel under the bus, they will be forgiven for the handful of articles they have written attacking the Left’s bigotry and mob mentality since joining the Times.

The impact of their column was profound. The Jerusalem Post, where Stephens served as editor 14 years ago, published an editorial pointing to his criticism as cause to permit Alqasem to enter. Multiple other Israeli media organs reached the similarly demoralized conclusion that the Stephens-Weiss column meant Israel had lost the support of pro-Israel American Jews.

In short, then, the Stephens-Weiss column effectively mainstreamed their whitewashing of the most powerful antisemitic force in the Western world.  It certainly empowered the Israeli Supreme Court to ignore the law and let Alqasem in.

Israel’s big mistake was letting Alqasem land at the airport. It tried to correct its mistake when authorities apprehended Alqasem at the border. But as events show, it was too late. As should have been predicted, as soon as she landed at the airport, Alqasem immediately began carrying out her propaganda stunt. In doing so, she demonstrated how important it is for Israeli authorities to properly enforce the entry ban on BDS operatives.

But the incompetence of Israeli immigration officials aside, they aren’t they real culprits in the Alqasem affair.

The culprits in this sordid story are Alqasem and her comrades in her racist movement — as well as their self-serving enablers on the Israeli Left; the American Jewish Left; and, perhaps most critically, Stephens and Weiss.

All of them viewed joining the BDS pile-on over Alqasem as a way to buy credibility — at Israel’s expense.

Media pundits are always quick to proclaim that they are not responsible for anything that happens subsequent to their writing. “We aren’t the decision-makers,” they bleat, as if they are convinced that all of their harping is utterly inconsequential.

These protestations are absurd, however. Pundits chose their profession to influence policymakers and the public. If they didn’t recognize their importance, they would have chosen a different profession. The Stephens-Weiss column was decisive in this absurd anti-Israel propaganda play.

Now that Israel’s Supreme Court has permitted Alqasem to spend a year in Israel, given what we know about the BDS campaign, and what we have observed about her over the past two weeks, we can be certain she will use her time, and her newfound celebrity to harm Israel far more.

She and the bigoted BDS movement she serves have her many enablers — including, and perhaps especially, “unhinged Zionists” Stephens and Weiss — to thank for the opportunity.

Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.

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