Court con­sid­ers ban on Amer­i­can

Is­rael de­tains U.S. stu­dent at air­port and bars her en­try for past sup­port of boy­cott.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Noga Tarnopol­sky Tarnopol­sky is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

TEL AVIV — For nine days, Lara Alqasem, a 22year-old Amer­i­can col­lege stu­dent, has been de­tained at Is­rael’s international air­port by of­fi­cials bar­ring her from en­ter­ing the coun­try to study be­cause of her ac­tivism in boy­cott ac­tiv­i­ties.

On Thurs­day, the Florida res­i­dent ap­peared in Tel Aviv District Court to ap­peal the de­ci­sion to block her en­try into Is­rael, where she had been ac­cepted into a mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gram.

The case of Alqasem, who does not deny hav­ing been ac­tive in the past with the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment, is the first test of a 2017 Is­raeli law aimed at ban­ning any for­eign ac­tivist who ad­vo­cates for a boy­cott of Is­rael.

The He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem has sup­ported her ap­peal, ask­ing the court to rule against the In­te­rior Min­istry’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law. A lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the univer­sity said that per­mit­ting Alqasem to at­tend the He­brew Univer­sity would send a mes­sage that “Is­rael is a democ­racy and not an apartheid state” as the BDS move­ment claims.

Is­rael says Alqasem, who was is­sued a stu­dent visa by the Is­raeli Con­sulate in Mi­ami, served as pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Florida branch of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine, a BDS-af­fil­i­ated or­ga­ni­za­tion, dur­ing the 2016-17 school year.

In an af­fi­davit filed Thurs­day, Alqasem said that her think­ing has changed in re­cent years and that she has moved away from es­pous­ing an anti-Is­raeli ide­ol­ogy. She men­tioned her en­roll­ment in the He­brew Univer­sity grad­u­ate pro­gram in tran­si­tional jus­tice as ev­i­dence of her change of heart.

Strate­gic Af­fairs Min­is­ter Gi­lad Er­dan, who leads the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts against BDS, said in a ra­dio in­ter­view that “the He­brew Univer­sity is work­ing to­gether with the ex­treme left here.”

Er­dan added, how­ever, that “if Lara Alqasem, in her own voice, not through all kinds of lawyers or state­ments that can be mis­con­strued, says that sup­port­ing BDS is il­le­git­i­mate and she re­grets what she did, I will con­sider let­ting her in.”

Alqasem been held since Oct. 2 in a dorm-like fa­cil­ity at Ben Gu­rion International Air­port and is al­lowed out­doors sev­eral times a day. Au­thor­i­ties say she is not un­der ar­rest and is free to leave Is­rael at any point if she ac­cepts de­por­ta­tion back to the United States.

The sit­u­a­tion has pro­voked out­rage across the board, even from some of Is­rael’s most fer­vent sup­port­ers.

Writ­ing for Bloomberg View, au­thor Zev Chafets said that “the Alqasem case is an ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when cyn­i­cism meets moral panic.”

Yes, he ac­knowl­edged, “BDS does, in­deed, hate Is­rael and the Jews who sup­port it … but the min­is­ter wildly ex­ag­ger­ated the dan­ger, not sur­pris­ingly given it’s an election year in Is­rael.”

The Assn. of Is­raeli Univer­sity Heads also crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment’s action, say­ing that the min­istry re­neged on a com­mit­ment to con­sult the lo­cal aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion be­fore any action was taken against a stu­dent.

“The dam­age caused to Is­rael and Is­raeli academia as a whole, to the Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties and par­tic­u­larly to Is­raeli sci­en­tists and re­searchers abroad by de­ci­sions of this kind could well ex­ceed the po­ten­tial dam­age, if any, of per­mit­ting her to en­ter Is­rael,” wrote Tel Aviv Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph Klafter on be­half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Alqasem’s con­tention that her po­lit­i­cal think­ing has evolved was sup­ported in let­ters from Florida aca­demics, in­clud­ing Eric Kliger­man, a pro­fes­sor of Jewish and Ger­man stud­ies who taught two sem­i­nars she at­tended.

Kliger­man at­tested that Alqasem, who grad­u­ated in May, was “one of the most gifted and promis­ing un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents I have had the pleasure of work­ing with at the Univer­sity of Florida.”

“Far from be­ing an ad­vo­cate of BDS or a pro­po­nent of sup­press­ing di­a­logue and the in­tel­lec­tual ex­change be­tween peo­ples,” he wrote, “Lara is one of the most en­gag­ing and thought­ful stu­dents I have had in my sem­i­nars on Jewish cul­ture and thought. If any­thing, her pres­ence in Is­rael would lead to fruit­ful paths of com­mu­ni­ca­tion among its dis­tinct and vi­brant cul­tures.”

State at­tor­ney Yossi Tzadok coun­tered in court that Alqasem re­mains a pro­po­nent of BDS and that her so­cial me­dia were erased be­fore she ar­rived in Is­rael to con­ceal such be­liefs.

As ev­i­dence, Tzadok pre­sented a screen­shot of Alqasem’s for­mer Face­book page, in­clud­ing an “at­tend­ing” click on an April 2016 event ad­vo­cat­ing a boy­cott of hum­mus brand Sabra, which is partly owned by an Is­raeli con­cern.

On Wed­nes­day, U.S. State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said that “we value free­dom of ex­pres­sion … also in cases where peo­ple don’t agree with lo­cal poli­cies or even United States poli­cies.”

But, she said, “it is up to the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael to de­cide who it wants to let into the coun­try.”

Jack Guez AFP/Getty Images

AMER­I­CAN COL­LEGE stu­dent Lara Alqasem ap­pears in Tel Aviv District Court. A group of univer­sity chiefs has crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment for ban­ning her.

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