U.S. student in boycott case allowed to stay in Israel: court

Geraldine Edwards
October 22, 2018

Alqasem appealed the decision by the Israeli ministry and in a trial Thursday, said that; although she had participated in various campaigns boycotting Israel, its exported goods, and companies conducting business with the Arabic country, these activities had ended in 2017.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law", said Alqasem attorney Leora Bechor.

The lawyers of a US student who was barred entry into Israel under a law against foreign pro-Palestinian activists who call for boycotts of Israel, claimed "victory" after the Supreme Court weighed in on the case.

During her detention, Alqasem was held in a room at the airport and denied visitors save for her lawyers and, in one instance, left-wing Israeli lawmakers.

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The case was one of the first legal tests of the Israeli government's attempts to bar foreigners who "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel". Studying at Hebrew University is likely the only way that an American of Palestinian descent would be allowed to enter Jerusalem - since all other paths (tourism, immigration, work visas) are closed to Palestinians.

"Since the appellant's actions do not raise satisfactory cause to bar her to entry to Israel, the inevitable impression is that invalidating the visa given to her was due to the political opinions she holds", read the verdict.

It was not immediately clear whether the Israeli authorities would appeal the ruling. He had rejected a promise from Alqasem not to take part in boycott activities while in Israel as insufficient and was the most vocal opponent of allowing her to enter the country.

Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, which spearheads the government's efforts against the boycott campaign, describes the group as an extremist organization and says BDS aims to delegitimize or even destroy the Jewish state.

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"She committed to not do so, and is aware" she would be deported if she did campaign, the lawyer added. "Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give it unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted". Alqasem used to head a small chapter of a pro-boycott student group. "Lara's case proves that thought-policing has no absolutely place in a democracy".

Hebrew University, which joined Alqasem's appeal, also welcomed the court's decision.

Israeli ministers, however, called the decision "a disgrace" and "shameful". "Would she in the United States act against the state and demand to stay and study there?"

"I shall look into how to prevent such a thing happening again".

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Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan argued that Alqasem "was President of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups in the USA", and accused BDS groups of engaging in "anti-Semitic and violent activity".

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