Hebrew University students protest arrival of US ex-activist held at airport

Hebrew University students protest arrival of US ex-activist held at airport

Student puts up posters comparing Lara Alqasem, whom the government accuses of supporting BDS, to terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, days after far-right campus demonstration

US student Lara Alqasem at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 17, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
US student Lara Alqasem at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 17, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Hebrew University student on Tuesday protested against the arrival on campus of a US woman accused of boycott activities against the country, comparing her to notorious terrorists.

It was the second protest at the university’s Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem since Lara Alqasem began her post-graduate studies there this week, after the Supreme Court overturned her deportation from the country for allegedly supporting the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, known as BDS.

The student, Daniel Tzuri, put up two posters — one at the entrance to the Law Faculty on campus — lambasting the Supreme Court, “with the cooperation of the Hebrew University,” for allowing Alqasem in, and comparing her to a series of terrorists and other bad actors, whom it envisioned as “students,” each linked to a different discipline.

Among the “students” displayed on the poster were the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden depicted as a graduate of building engineering studies, the head of the Islamic State terror group as a tutor of theology, a Hamas spokesman as a media student, and Syrian President Bashar Assad as a student of chemistry.

Tzuri told Hadashot TV news that he was exercising his right to free expression and that the criticism was directed at the Supreme Court and the university, which opposed her deportation, rather than at Alqasem herself.

“It is criticism of what, in my view, is an injustice — to grant a boycott activist entry into a Zionist academic institution,” he said.

The university said in a statement that the posters were inappropriate because they had been put up in a place that was not intended for such use.

“The university is in favor of free expression as long as it doesn’t contravene state laws and is held according to university regulations,” the statement said. “In this case, the posters were removed before the question of freedom of speech [came up], because they were put up in a place not intended for signs and so were damaging to public property.”

The university called on students on both sides of the debate to hold “open and relevant dialogue.”

Alqasem, 22, arrived on campus Sunday to begin her masters degree studies following a three-week legal battle for the right to enter Israel that drew intense international scrutiny. State authorities had initially denied her entry and tried to deport her, accusing her of supporting the pro-Palestinian BDS movement against Israel. She was held at a facility at the airport since October 2.

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 boycott movement against Israel. It said she could fly back to the US at any time, but detained her at the airport since she chose to battle the entry ban through the courts.

When she first arrived at the university, she was greeted by right-wing activists who waved Israeli flags and posted notices on campus declaring that there was a terror supporter on campus.

The right-wing Im Tirtzu group said it wanted to give Alqasem the same welcome she had given to Israeli students at the University of Florida campus when she was active in the boycott-supporting student group.

Flyers posted in Hebrew and English around the campus declared, “Did you know that with the support of the Hebrew University there is a BDS activist and supporter of terror on campus?”

Screen capture from video of protest flyers against US student Lara Alqasem at the Hebrew University, October 21, 2018. (Facebook)

Other flyers alleged, “You support a terrorist who murdered two Hebrew University students and now you want to study here? We don’t want you here!” It was an apparent reference to terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted of involvement in a 1969 deadly terror attack on a Jerusalem supermarket.

During Alqasem’s time at the SJP, the group organized a day of support for Odeh, who moved to the US after spending 10 years in an Israeli prison, but was deported last year after it was found she had lied on her application for citizenship.

“We basically informed her that she is not wanted here, and let her know that we remember the things that she did on campus in Florida against Jewish and Israeli students and that we will more or less give her the same welcome that she gave them there,” an Im Tirtzu member told the Kan public broadcaster. “She should understand that this is not the place to do BDS.”

On Sunday, the Ynet news site reported that university officials had boosted campus security in preparation for Alqasem’s arrival.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that a law banning people who take a central role in advocating for boycotts of the Jewish state could not be applied in Alqasem’s case, putting an end to the saga.

In court, Alqasem insisted that she had not participated in boycott activities for a year and a half, and promised not to engage in BDS in the future.

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.

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