Deri: 'Where is our national dignity?'

A ‘big victory for BDS’: Ministers pan Supreme Court for letting student stay

Government officials condemn ruling overturning deportation of US-born Lara Alqasem, say it will harm efforts to combat boycott movement

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 11, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 11, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Senior ministers said Thursday that the Supreme Court had handed a victory to anti-Israel activists by ruling against the deportation of a US student accused by the government of supporting boycotts against the Jewish state.

In making their decision, the panel of three judges ruled that Lara Alqasem was being denied entry to the country due to her political views rather than any activity she is currently engaged in, and that barring her would be unproductive in countering the boycott movement. They noted that should Alqasem engage in boycott activities while in the country, authorities would be able to immediately deport her.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan decried the decision as a “big victory for BDS.”

Erdan, whose ministry is responsible for countering BDS — an acronym of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — said in a statement that the ruling “indicates a basic lack of understanding of the nature and methods of the BDS campaign.”

“This ruling will not weaken our determination to combat BDS,” he vowed. “We will examine the legal criteria in order to ensure that the original intent of the law is maintained. The principle that whoever acts to harm the State of Israel and its citizens should be refused entry must be preserved.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 13, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Alqasem, 22, had been held at the airport for 15 days after arriving in Israel for a master’s program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The state alleged that Alqasem, who headed the local chapter of the pro-boycott Students for Justice in Palestine group while she was a student at the University of Florida, currently supports the movement to boycott Israel. It said she could fly home at any time, but she chose to battle the entry ban through the courts.

Following Thursday’s court decision the Population Immigration and Border Authority announced that Alqasem had been released from the detention center.

“The court minimized the extremist and anti-Semitic nature of SJP, the organization of which Alqasem served as president,” Erdan charged in his statement. “Furthermore, the justices essentially ignored the fact that she erased her social media networks to hide her activities before arriving in Israel.

“Their ruling opens the door for BDS activists to enter the country simply by enrolling in an academic program and declaring that they do not support boycotts at the present moment,” warned Erdan, who is also public security minister.

In accepting her appeal, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a lower court that upheld the ban on her entry under a 2017 law forbidding BDS activists from entering Israel.

In court, Alqasem insisted that she has not participated in boycott activities for a year and a half, and promised not to engage in BDS in the future. State lawyers argued that Alqasem’s deletion of her social media aroused suspicion and that she remains a threat.

The Supreme Court accepted that Alqasem had stopped her pro-boycott activity in April 2017, that she had subsequently studied the Holocaust, and that Hebrew University had given her a place on a post-graduate course.

“Since the petitioner’s actions do not sufficiently warrant banning her entry to Israel, the unavoidable impression is that her political opinions were the reason behind the cancellation of the visa that was granted to her,” it ruled. “If that is indeed the case, we are talking about a radical and dangerous step.”

One of the judges warned, however, that if Alqasem “returns to her old ways” and promoted a boycott while in Israel, she could face expulsion.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at a Shas party event in Jerusalem marking the Sukkot on September 27, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Justice Neal Hendel, one of three Supreme Court judges who heard the appeal, affirmed in the ruling that while the state has the authority to bar BDS activists from the country, the law was not applicable in Alqasem’s case.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose ministry is tasked with enforcing the law, called the ruling a “disgrace.”

“Where is our national dignity? In the US would she also dare to act against the state and demand to remain and study there? I’ll examine ways to prevent the recurrence of a case like this,” he tweeted.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin accused the court of undermining laws passed by the Knesset.

“The Supreme Court judges in their disgraceful decision to approve the entry of a boycott Israel activist, are continuing to act against democracy and against clear legislation by the Knesset,” he said in a statement.

The decision would create a clear path “for boycott activists to enter the country and continue to harm the state,” he warned.

Leader of the Meretz party MK Tamar Zandberg attends a joint Knesset and Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg, who leads the left-wing Meretz party, applauded the Supreme Court for protecting Israel from “thought police.”

“An important victory in the struggle for Israel as a liberal democracy free of thought police,” she tweeted. “”Sanity saved those who tried to bash their heads against the wall without looking to the sides. This is an important decision that strengthens Israel and Israeli academia, and proves to the whole world that Israel doesn’t behave according to the Erdan’s hysterical trolling.”

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