Florida student Lara Alqasem was detained at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, allegedly for her ties to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement..
(photo credit: CODY O'ROURKE/COURTESY/TNS)
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said on Tuesday that US student Lara Alqasem should recant her opinions and actions supporting the boycott of Israel if she wants to be let into the country.
Alqasem is a University of Florida student who has been detained by Israeli authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport for the past six days for alleged Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activity, after she arrived in Israel to begin a year’s study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for a master’s degree.
Israel passed a law in 2017 allowing the Strategic Affairs Ministry, in coordination with the Interior Ministry, to deny entry to the country for foreigners who are leading figures in the boycott movement against Israel, including the West Bank settlements, although only a handful of individuals have indeed been blocked under the law.
“I gave notice this morning, in coordination with Interior Minister Arye Deri, that if Lara Alqasem declares in a clear and explicit manner that she erred in the past and she believes today that support for a boycott on Israel and the BDS [movement] is a mistake and illegitimate, and that she regrets having served in the past as head of the branch of a boycott group, we will reconsider our stance regarding her entry into Israel,” Erdan wrote on Twitter.
The strategic affairs minister also pointed out on that Omar Barghouti, the founder and leader of the BDS movement, has an Israeli residency permit and studied at Tel Aviv University, and argued therefore that just because Alqasem was seeking to study at Hebrew University, it did not mean that she could not also be part of the movement, as she has claimed.
Earlier on Tuesday, Erdan said in an interview with Army Radio that Alqasem deleted her social media accounts before coming to Israel, and insisted that she had been the head of a branch of a “boycott and hatred organization” in Florida.
“She did this for several years and she is responsible for those comments of hatred and the silencing of Jewish or pro-Israel students in US universities,” Erdan alleged.
He also accused Alqasem of trying to use evasive and deceptive legal “tricks” and vague responses which could be interpreted in different ways when answering questions to the appeal court reviewing her case.
If she makes an unambiguous statement that boycotting Israel is “illegitimate” and that she regrets her BDS work, then the ministry would consider allowing her to enter Israel.
Alqasem is being detained until the courts resolve her status with the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which opposed her entry into the country, a position which the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ratified.
She has admitted that during her university studies in Florida she was president of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which often leads boycott campaigns against Israel.
However, she declared in a hearing of the Tel Aviv Court of Appeals last week that she does not identify with the boycott movement anymore and left it some time ago, and has been focusing more on understanding both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as demonstrated by her readiness to attend Hebrew University.
She also stated to the appeals court that she was not a leading figure in the BDS movement and therefore would not fit the criteria established by the BDS law, which requires that only leading figures of the boycott movement be denied entry.
Alqasem’s attorney Yotam Ben-Hallel told The Jerusalem Post that the Florida chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine group only had five to eight members maximum, and that claims that she is a leading BDS figure are therefore “ridiculous.”
He also noted that documents sub- mitted to the court by the Strategic Affairs Ministry referenced and were based, at least in part, on informa- tion gleaned from the Canary Mission website, an anonymous organization which has created a blacklist of anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian activists and university staff in the US, based on publicly available sources.
A hearing on Alqasem’s case in the Tel Aviv District Court for Appeals is scheduled for this coming Sunday at 1 p.m.
Some 360 professors and Jewish professionals in the US have signed a declaration calling on the Israeli authorities to permit Alqasem to enter Israel, with 235 signing in the last 24 hours alone.
The Jewish professionals who signed a statement in support of Alqasem’s entry include the CEO of the New Israel Fund, the president of J Street, the director of the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College, the project manager for the Israeli youth movement Hashomer Hatzair and dozens of rabbis.
“As Jewish professionals, we stand against racial profiling, and we stand for pluralism and academic freedom,” they stated.
Another 400 academics from Hebrew University and other institutions of higher education around Israel have also called for Alqasem to be allowed into Israel. Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report
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