A US student detained in Israel’s airport for allegedly supporting BDS can enter the country after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the anti-BDS law did not apply to her case.
Lara Alqasem – a 22-year-old Palestinian-American student who landed in Israel to pursue a master’s degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – has been held in Israel’s Ben Gurion airport for two weeks for allegedly supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel had claimed that under its controversial anti-BDS law it could prevent Alqasem from entering the country, despite the fact that she held a visa issued by the Israeli Consulate in Miami.
However, yesterday Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that Alqasem could not be barred from entry under this law as it did not apply in her case, the Times of Israel reported. Alqasem is believed to have headed the Students for Justice in Palestine group at the University of Florida, which Israel claimed proved she was a BDS supporter. Even though Alqasem promised not to take part in any BDS activity during her time in Israel, Israel’s lower court continued to deny her appeals to enter. Yesterday’s Supreme Court’s decision therefore overturns this prior judgement, ruling that:
Since the petitioner’s [Alqasem’s] actions do not sufficiently warrant banning her entry to Israel, the unavoidable impression is that her political opinions were the reason behind the cancellation of the visa that was granted to her. If that is indeed the case, we are talking about a radical and dangerous step.
Alqasem’s case has garnered international attention, particularly given a revelation by Haaretz that much of Israel’s decision to ban her was based on controversial website Canary Mission. The site is seen as a notoriously pro-Israel organisation which blacklists activists and academics deemed to be pro-Palestinian. Haaretz subsequently revealed that Canary Mission is funded by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, “a major Jewish charity with an annual budget of over $100million”. Haaretz added that: “The federation’s support of Canary Mission connects the American Jewish establishment itself to a website that is facing increasing criticism from young Jews.”
Alqasem is not the first person Israel has tried to prevent from entering the country by citing its anti-BDS law. In July prominent Spanish BDS activist Ana Sanchez Mera was banned from entering Israel after she was accused of aiming “to cause great damage to Israel”. The ban came at the behest of two high-profile members of Israel’s establishment, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who have waged a de facto war against BDS since Israel created a “public relations commando unit” to deal with the movement back in 2017.
Israel’s increasingly ardent attempts to crack down on BDS activists are seen as evidence that the pressure created by the movement is working. Last week Israel ordered BDS activists who persuaded New Zealand pop-star Lorde to cancel her planned performance in Tel Aviv to pay $12,000 in damages. In response, the two activists refused to pay the fine, instead raising almost $12,000 for a Palestinian charity working to combat mental health issues in the besieged Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss a bill “that would subject activists convicted of promoting a boycott of Israel to prison terms of up to seven years”. According to Haaretz, the bill would apply to anyone who works to “undermine Israel’s interests, its relations with any other country, organisation or institution … or any interest they have in Israel”.