Florida stu­dent held in Is­rael

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE -

De­tained grad­u­ate stu­dent Lara Al asks judge to al­low her to en­ter the coun­try to be­gin her stud­ies.

TEL AVIV, Is­rael — A U.S. grad­u­ate stu­dent who has been held in de­ten­tion while fight­ing an ex­pul­sion or­der over her in­volve­ment in the boy­cott move­ment against Is­rael ap­peared in court on Thurs­day, ask­ing a judge to al­low her to en­ter the coun­try to be­gin her stud­ies.

It was the first time that Lara Alqasem, 22, of South­west Ranches, Fla., has ap­peared in pub­lic since she was stopped Oct. 2 at Is­rael’s Ben-Gu­rion Air­port.

Alqasem ap­peared calm dur­ing the hear­ing. She kept quiet and stared straight ahead.

She is to re­main in de­ten­tion un­til the court de­liv­ers its writ­ten verdict in the com­ing days. The judge gave no in­di­ca­tion which way he would lean or when he would make his de­ci­sion.

“I think we have a good case. The state’s ar­gu­ment and ev­i­dence was weak, but I’ve learned not to be op­ti­mistic,” her lawyer Yo­tam Ben-Hil­lel said, re­fer­ring to a court’s re­jec­tion of Alqasem’s first ap­peal.

Alqasem, whose father is Pales­tinian, ar­rived in Is­rael with a valid stu­dent visa and was reg­is­tered to study hu­man rights at Jerusalem’s He­brew Univer­sity.

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

Is­rael has said that she is not be­ing held against her will and is free to leave the coun­try. It also has said it would re­con­sider its de­ci­sion if she apol­o­gizes and re­nounces the boy­cott move­ment.

Is­rael en­acted a law last year ban­ning en­try for any for­eigner who “know­ingly is­sues a pub­lic call for boy­cotting Is­rael.” It has come un­der heavy crit­i­cism for its han­dling of Alqasem’s case.

Alqasem is a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Florida chap­ter of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine. The group is a branch of the BDS move­ment, whose name comes from its calls for boy­cotts, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions against Is­rael.

BDS sup­port­ers say that in urg­ing busi­nesses, artists and uni­ver­si­ties to sever ties with Is­rael, they are us­ing non­vi­o­lent means to re­sist un­just poli­cies to­ward Pales­tini­ans. Is­rael says the move­ment masks its mo­tives to dele­git­imize or de­stroy the Jewish state.

Asher Fred­man, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Strate­gic Af­fairs Min­istry, which over­sees Is­rael’s anti-BDS ef­forts, said that Alqasem was be­ing de­nied en­try be­cause of her past ac­tiv­i­ties, not her opinions.

“We have clear cri­te­ria,” he said. “We be­lieve that Miss Alqasem meets those cri­te­ria based on her ac­tions, and the ac­tions of the or­ga­ni­za­tion of which she was a se­nior leader over sev­eral years.”

Alqasem’s lawyers say that she is no longer en­gaged in BDS ac­tiv­ity, and has promised not to pro­mote it in the fu­ture. They claim her in­volve­ment in what they say is a small and in­signif­i­cant chap­ter of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine does not war­rant Is­rael’s de­por­ta­tion or­der.

Ben-Hil­lel told the court that his client had come to Is­rael to learn He­brew and study the Holo­caust and other is­sues.

For­mer pro­fes­sors have de­scribed her as a cu­ri­ous and open-minded stu­dent. Jewish groups in the United States as well as the He­brew Univer­sity, where she is reg­is­tered to pur­sue a mas­ter’s de­gree in hu­man rights, have also flocked to her de­fense.

A He­brew Univer­sity lawyer and two op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers tes­ti­fied in her de­fense, say­ing the gov­ern­ment’s tough stance was wrong and hurt­ing the coun­try’s im­age abroad.

—Yo­tam Ben-Hil­lel, Lara Alqasem’s at­tor­ney “I think we have a good case. The state’s ar­gu­ment and ev­i­dence was weak, but I’ve learned not to be op­ti­mistic.”


Lara Alqasem, who has been de­tained in Is­rael since Oct. 2, sits for a hear­ing at the Tel Aviv district court Thurs­day.

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