Israeli court freezes deportation of US student over alleged BDS links

Israeli court freezes deportation of US student over alleged BDS links

Judge says Lara Alqasem’s involvement in pro-boycott groups was ‘minor,’ gives state until Thursday to rule on her entry

Illustrative: People stand in line to go through passport control at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel, September 21, 2008. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: People stand in line to go through passport control at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel, September 21, 2008. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

An Israeli appeals court on Wednesday froze the deportation of an American student from Israel over her alleged support for boycotting the Jewish state.

Lara Alqasem, 22, who has Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering the country after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, despite having received a student visa from the Israeli consulate in Miami to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Haaretz daily reported.

The Population Immigration and Border Authority said the decision was due to Alqasem’s “boycott activity,” according to the report, which also quoted Strategic Affairs Ministry officials as saying she was a member of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group that calls for boycotting Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.

The deportation order was blocked Wednesday by the Entry to Israel Law Review Tribunal, which gave the state until 9 a.m. Thursday to decide on whether it will allow Alqasem to enter the country.

Nonviolence International former intern Lara Alqasem is currently detained by Israeli authorities and about to be…

Posted by Nonviolence International on Tuesday, 2 October 2018

In its ruling, the court said Alqasem previously had only “minor involvement” in pro-boycott groups and that she declared she was no longer active in them or intended to be so in the future, according to Haaretz.

It also noted that the Miami consulate granted Alqasem a visa, “even though it could have discovered the now known data by means of a simple search of an information database in a way that would have spared [Alqasem] from arriving in Israel.”

In a letter of support to Alqasem’s lawyer, Hebrew University warned that preventing a foreign student such as her from studying in the country would harm its ties with other universities around the world, Haaretz reported.

View of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus seen from Jerusalem’s Old City, on June 10, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Alqasem’s detention came less than a week after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber said the Shin Bet security service would no longer ask detainees at border crossings about their political views and that regulations to that effect would be reiterated to officials at the borders.

The statement from Zilber followed a month-long inquiry after American Jewish journalist and prominent critic of the Israeli government Peter Beinart said he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah last month.

In a statement last week, the Shin Bet said an internal inquiry following Beinart’s detention concluded that questioning him was “an error in professional judgment on the part of the relevant official in the Shin Bet.” The agency added, however, that “the questioning itself was conducted lawfully under the authority granted to the Shin Bet under law.”

Author Peter Beinart waits to speak at an event November 14, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/ David Goldman/File)

After Beinart, a prominent Iranian-American author said he was also questioned and threatened by the Shin Bet two weeks earlier, while entering Israel from Jordan with his family.

In a series of Twitter posts, Reza Aslan likened the interrogation to those in “police states” and said he decided to share the experience after Beinart disclosed his own questioning. Though it acknowledged Beinart’s questioning, the Shin Bet denied Aslan’s claims, calling them “unfounded.”

Others who have said they were recently held up include Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher. In early July, the Jewish pro-boycott activist Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel.

A law passed last year allows the Interior Ministry to bar entry for supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, Israeli citizens may not be prevented from entering the country.

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