A toxic one-two punch on Israeli democracy

The Court’s decision was an all-too-common instance of its inner oligarchic nature. Showing its usual contempt for the elected government and the legislation it enacted.

October 24, 2018 21:43
3 minute read.
US student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, 2018

US student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, 2018. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)


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It’s hard to know which was more disheartening: the shocking but not surprising decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the government and two lower courts to deport Lara Alqasem, a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, a rabidly anti-Semitic American BDS organization, or the full-throated support of Hebrew University, where Alqasem is hoping to study, to allow her to stay in Israel.

The Court’s decision was an all-too-common instance of its inner oligarchic nature. Showing its usual contempt for the elected government and the legislation it enacted, the Court decided that it knows better, being able to divine the thoughts and feelings of a woman who had worked for years for SJP, rising through the ranks to become president of its branch at the University of Florida.
Rather than focus on the lengthy and sophisticated nature of her tenure at SJP, the Court decided that it was notable that she ceased her active BDS efforts a year ago, and had even studied the Holocaust. Did the Court ask her if she no longer believed in BDS? Given her resume filled with hateful demonization of Israel, would it not have been appropriate to ask for some kind of affirmative renunciation to allay fears of resurgent BDS activity once she was here? After all, Mahmoud Abbas also studied the Holocaust.

Might her cessation of BDS activity just have been a hiatus precisely to enable her to do what she has just accomplished? Seems pretty skeptical, even cynical, doesn’t it?

Perhaps, but SJP is no ordinary organization. These are not young people interested in fairness and justice. They are shock troops for “freeing Palestine.” Or as their old slogan says, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for Israel, does it? Given that, shouldn’t the bar for a demonstration of a change of heart been set quite a bit higher?

While the Court’s naiveté was sanctimonious and so self-ennobling, more cynical and, dare I say hypocritical was the legal support given by Hebrew University to allow Alqasem to study there.

Why hypocritical? Because the school is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, the university extolled Alqasem’s desire to study there. This sounds like Emma Lazarus holding her torch beside the golden door of higher education. Very noble indeed.

However, on the other hand, the University professes to have zero tolerance for acts of provocation. Forget the fact that this policy is not fairly administered, as Arab provocations tend to be sanctioned as free speech, but countervailing Jewish responses tend to be treated as, well, provocations.

So the university is both opposed to hosting and even fostering provocations, while yet willfully suspending judgment on the very real possibility that their rolled out welcome mat will promote the  provocations they profess to oppose.

Both the court and the university undoubtedly believe that they are acting in the best tradition of free speech and inquiry and as guardians of Western democratic openness in the face of fearful parochial interests.

But has it occurred to the smartest guys in the room that they have just been played like fiddles in the cynically manipulative ways of the Middle East? Did it ever cross their minds that they have just provided a template for future aspiring BDS activists to enter Israel? And having now entered, how they could revert to their old ways without setting off alarm bells as to their direct conduct.
In other words, if Alqasem or her future permutations are careful not to have their fingerprints too visibly on BDS activity, they will be free to mentor, advise and inspire their admiring Israeli cohorts.

What a great victory for the BDS movement this will be! The movement will be able to plant its Trojan horses on all-too-receptive Israeli campuses, bringing back eyewitness testimony as to the “oppressive, repressive colonialist occupier.”

Israel will become a powerful reverberation loop in the BDS narrative. Even better, as Israelis themselves embrace BDS, how could the rest of us in the Diaspora not join in? Finally, those who would dare to combat such righteous outrage will be marginalized and demonized, as befits the fascistic elements seeking to defend the illegitimate Zionist entity.

Is this far-fetched, paranoid perhaps? Stay tuned. In the meantime we have delegated our ability to defend our sovereignty to the Supreme Court and to Hebrew University, and I for one plan on losing sleep about it.

The author is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.

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