Arrested US student fights entry ban at Israeli court

Clay Curtis
October 13, 2018

Lara Alqasem, a U.S. student of Palestinian descent, spent over a week in a Tel Aviv airport after being denied entry to Israel over alleged support for BDS. Instead, she has spent the past week detained.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she was an activist in the boycott movement.

A US Embassy official told CNN on Wednesday: "We are following the case and have provided consular services to Alqasem".

An American graduate student - who admits her previous support for a pro-Palestinian boycott campaign targeting Israel - appealed on Thursday the Jewish state's decision to bar her from the country due to her anti-Israel activism.

The minister later hinted that the government might consider letting Alqasem into Israel if she declares the support for BDS "illegitimate" and "regrets what she did on this matter".

BDS advocates for boycotts against the Jewish nation's businesses and products with the goal of isolating Israel and advancing Palestinian efforts to secure their own state. Israel says she can leave any time. Officials have said she can return to the U.S.at any time.

Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, suburb of Southwest Ranches, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

USA student Lara Alqasem (C) appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has supported her appeal, asking the court to rule against the Interior Ministry's interpretation of the law. The more than weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case.

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Some analysts called the decisions a continuation of a longtime anti-Israel policy at UNESCO, which included resolutions rejecting Israel's connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Her cellphone was confiscated and she felt "completely cut off from the world". "It didn't say she renounces what she did in the past or that she promises not to do so in the future".

Her attorney, Yotam Ben-Hillel, did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

An American student being held in Israel on subversion charges appeared in court Thursday asking to be allowed into the country after spending a week at the airport in Tel Aviv. "She's not even part of the student organization anymore".

"The text doesn't comply with what I said", Erdan said.

Hebrew University's academic senate condemned Alqasem's detention and called for her immediate release. "She was curious about Israel and never expressed any negative sentiment or anger about Israel". She mentioned her enrollment in the Hebrew University graduate program in transitional justice as evidence of her change of heart.

Israeli authorities have also come under criticism in recent months over what some have seen as the politically motivated questioning of certain foreigners seeking to enter the country.

"UNESCO is playing on diplomatic ambiguity to get the ball rolling again", said one of the diplomats.

In recent months, a number of vocal critics of the Israeli government, including USA journalist Peter Beinart, have been interrogated about their political views by border agents. "These are a collection of policies that are not only aimed at narrowing freedom of speech but also show the extent to which Israel is not acting like a liberal democracy should".

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