The Palestinian Authority lashed out at Israel for detaining a US student of Palestinian descent over allegations that she supports a boycott of the Jewish state, wading into an affair that has placed Israeli border policies under a harsh microscope.
Lara Alqasem, 22, who has Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering Israel after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport last Tuesday, despite having received a student visa from the Israeli Consulate in Miami to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She has been held in an airport detention facility ever since while she appeals to be let in, arguing that she does not support a boycott of the country. Israel has said she can fly home any time, but she is fighting in court to be allowed in, and the Hebrew University is backing her.
The PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Alqasem’s detention was “a punishment for her ideas” and “the ugliest form of political terrorism.”
The Population Immigration and Border Authority has said the decision to stop Alqasem at the airport was due to her “boycott activity,” while Strategic Affairs Ministry officials noted that she was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group that calls for boycotting Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. It also has identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival.
The PA also criticized the US for failing to back Alqasem despite her being a citizen.
“Alqasem’s experience exposes the size of the blind American bias in favor of the occupation to the point that it will give up on the rights of an American citizen,” the ministry said.
Commenting on Alqasem’s case on Tuesday, the US State Department said it values freedom of expression, but stated Israel was free to decide whether to grant her entry.
“We are aware of her case,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in a briefing. “Our embassy is providing consular access as we would to all American citizens.
“We value freedom of expression, also in cases where people don’t agree with local policies or even the United States’ policies,” she said, but added that “ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country.”
On Monday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem asked to be included in a Tel Aviv District Court petition Alqasem filed against her deportation.
Hebrew University president Asher Cohen said Tuesday that the fact that Alqasem wants to study at the school was proof she does not support a boycott, but that the attention her case had drawn could end up giving ammunition to actual supporters of the BDS movement.
“What’s being done regarding this student hurts our activities against BDS,” Cohen told Army Radio. “She wants to come here and learn. For a year… She says she’s coming to study for a year… That activity of hers is against BDS.”
Alqasem is registered to study human rights at the school.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has criticized the university for supporting the student’s court appeal against her impending deportation.
“The Hebrew University is working together with the extreme left here,” he told Army Radio Tuesday.
He also said that Alqasem can leave Israel any time and if she were to renounce her past activities and publicly declare that boycott efforts are illegitimate, he would reconsider her case.
Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group backs boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.
“We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”
AP contributed to this report.