Why Lara Alqasem’s permission to enter Israel normalizes abuses

The Israeli Supreme Court only accepted Alqasem’s appeal after it was convinced that she no longer held the very same political opinions for which she was denied entry.

US student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018 (photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
US student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
The Supreme Court’s decision this month to allow Palestinian-American student Lara Alqasem to enter Israel to pursue her master’s studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem marks the first time that the court has ruled on the implementation of a new law that allows the Israeli interior minister to ban the entry into Israel of alleged Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists.
Alqasem’s case – in which she was denied entry under a 2017 amendment to the Entry into Israel Law, despite already having been granted a student visa – stirred much public debate locally and internationally. The Israeli right wing attacked the court’s decision for granting legitimacy to the BDS movement; the Zionist left wing defended the ruling for protecting liberal and democratic values.
However, for Palestinians and their allies, the court’s ruling has damaging consequences for their struggle for human rights and justice.
Writing in the ruling, Justice Baron found that “the unavoidable impression is that the revocation of the (student) visa which was issued to her was based on the political opinion that she (Alqasem) holds.” If this were the case, Baron continued, “it would count as extreme and dangerous and might lead to the disintegration of the supporting pillars that Israel’s democracy is built upon.”
Yet, despite this principled claim, the Israeli Supreme Court only accepted Alqasem’s appeal after it was convinced that she no longer held the very same political opinions for which she was denied entry.
The court concluded that Alqasem’s insistence on studying at the Hebrew University was in itself anti-BDS. It argued that the interior minister did not provide any evidence that Alqasem was involved in boycott activities after April 2017; and that her boycott activities prior to April 2017, as a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), were “minor and narrow” and that SJP “is not considered among the prominent boycott organizations.”
Furthermore, the court emphasized that if Alqasem “exploits her presence in Israel to promote boycott activities, the [interior] minister will be allowed to immediately cancel her visa and expel her from the State’s borders.”
By doing so, the Israeli Supreme Court thus legitimized Israel’s entry ban on the sole basis of political expression – thereby rejecting the very pillars upon which a democracy is supposed to be built.
In addition, the Zionist Left and supporters of a two-state solution ought to be disappointed by the ruling. The Israeli Supreme Court clearly indicated that it supports the political views of the Israeli right wing, which seeks to erase the distinction between “Israel proper” and the “Occupied Territories” and to incorporate Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as a legitimate part of the state.
In fact, the court made it clear that it views any call for boycott – even one that is limited to settlement products – as illegal and illegitimate. As Justice Hendel wrote in Alqasem’s case, Israel’s fight against the boycott movement is “based on the doctrine of defensive democracy as well as the right of the state to defend itself and protect its citizens from discrimination” and, as such, the anti-BDS struggle is “desirable and essential.”
In this sense, there is a clear link between the court’s decision based on the Entry into Israel Law, and Israel’s recently enacted “Jewish Nation-State Law.” This new law, which explicitly guarantees exclusive rights in Israel for Jews only and legitimizes the establishment of Jewish-only settlements in Israel and in the West Bank, provides a constitutional cover for previously enacted laws that were initially designed to silence voices that oppose the Israeli occupation.
Like the Jewish Nation-State Law, the decision in Alqasem’s case sees any challenge to the occupation as a threat to the existence of the state of Israel itself. By basing Alqasem’s entry on her refusal to speak out and act against those policies, the Israeli Supreme Court once again took an active part in the right wing’s efforts to normalize Israel’s annexation of the occupied West Bank.

The writer is a senior lawyer at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and serves as director of Adalah’s Economic and Social Rights Unit.