The United States said Tuesday that Israel was free to decide whether to grant entry to a US student of Palestinian descent who has been held at Ben Gurion Airport for a week and faces deportation for allegedly supporting a boycott of Israel.
Lara Alqasem, 22, who has Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering the country after arriving at Ben Gurion 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 Israel.
“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.”
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 the National 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. It so far has blocked 15 people from entering, according to the ministry.
On Monday, the Hebrew University 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 Hebrew University.
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 if Alqasem 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 is a branch of the BDS movement, whose name comes from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
AP contributed to this report.