High Court freezes deportation of alleged BDS supporter Lara Alqasem

Alqasem's initial appeal to the Tel Aviv District Court was rejected on Friday with the court saying she was still a potential BDS risk.

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)
Uzi Vogelman of the High Court of Justice froze the deportation of alleged BDS activist Lara Alqasem less than one hour before a lower court deadline.
Vogelman set a first hearing on her appeal against her deportation for Wednesday, and ordered both the state and Alqasem to file responses in writing within 24 hours of the hearing.
Alqasem has been stranded at Ben-Gurion Airport for nearly two weeks – unwilling to return to the US voluntarily, and blocked by the state from entering the country because of her alleged support for BDS.
Her request to enter the country has already been turned down by the Interior Ministry and both the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s and District Courts, with the District Court rejecting her request on Friday, saying she was still a potential risk.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan blamed Israel’s Left for the negative public fallout following the detention of Alqasem.
“The Left began an international campaign against their own country, trying to bring someone into the country who led a chapter of one of the most antisemitic boycott organizations [referring to National Students for Justice in Palestine] in all of America,” Erdan said on Sunday morning in an interview on public broadcaster KAN.
“This damaged Israel’s image,” he said. “The ones responsible are those who go around the world and criticize a very reasonable decision.”
The minister also blamed the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, through which Alqasem’s student visa was approved.
“The university is using taxpayer money to subsidize the studies of someone who acted against Israel,” said Erdan.
“The Hebrew University acted horribly in my eyes. Not only did it support an anti-Israel student but it joined the legal processes against the state.”
Throughout the controversy, Alqasem has maintained that she left the BDS movement in April 2017, and that her intention to attend Hebrew University makes it clear that she no longer supports BDS.
Hebrew University has slammed the state both for allegedly sloppy and superficial Facebook-style evidence versus testimony from Alqasem’s University of Florida professors who know her.
It has also said that deporting Alqasem instead of letting her attend classes at Hebrew University is a huge win for the BDS movement. The university pleaded with the District Court to permit Alqasem to attend classes so as to send a message that Israel is a democracy, and to combat allegations of apartheid.
Much of the hearing before the District Court last week revolved around when, if ever, Alqasem ceased her BDS activity.
While her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel, said that she ceased BDS activity in April 2017, state prosecutor Yossi Zadok said they had information that she continued involvement with BDS into 2018.
When pressed about what the evidence was, Zadok said they had information that she had previously posted her intent to attend BDS events in 2018 and later erased the posts.
Zadok implied that her erasing posts also showed dishonesty and a cover-up.
It appeared that a ministry official was continually passing notes to the state lawyer throughout the hearing as arguments got more heated about what kind of evidence existed regarding Alqasem’s alleged support for BDS.
“Is this what we have come to?” Ben-Hillel responded. He said that many people post on Facebook that they might attend an event without attending and that many also erase prior activism posts for a variety of reasons.
According to Ben-Hillel, a 2017 law allowing the state to block BDS supporters from entering Israel only applies to current BDS leaders. Since Alqasem ceased being president of the Society for Justice of Palestine at her university – where, he said, there were only eight members and the group had little impact – around 18 months ago, the state had no basis to prevent her entry now.
But Zadok responded that the state has wide discretion to prevent people from entering the country and has previously used that discretion to deny entry to people for their activities even decades before, let alone only 18 months ago. He was also adamant that the state disputed Alqasem’s story about when she had stopped her BDS activity.