Israel’s top court on Sunday agreed to hear the appeal of a 22-year-old American graduate student who was denied entry into the country over her prior involvement in the movement to boycott Israel – the latest showdown over the controversial movement.
Lara Alqasem, a former president of the University of Flordia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, was denied entry into Israel on October 2 because of the organization’s ties to BDS – a campaign that calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory.
Alqasem, who was given a visa by the Israeli government to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, appealed the decision and has been held in detention ever since. Her hearing before the Israeli Supreme Court is set for Wednesday, her lawyer said.
“I think [Alqasem] is unique in that so many people have been denied entry and have accepted the deportation and not been public about it,” Aeriel Gold, a Jewish American activist who herself was barred from entering Israel in July over of her support for BDS, told The Globe Post.
The Israeli government announced in March of 2017 that it would no longer admit leaders of organizations that are involved in the BDS campaign into the country.
“Those boycott activists must understand that the rules of the game have changed. They will no longer be allowed to enter the country,” Interior Minister Arye Dery said in a statement in July.
In addition to Alqasem and Gold, the policy has been levied against several other individuals in recent months.
In April, Columbia professor Katherine Franke was deported on charges of being a leader of Jewish Voice for Peace, another organization that endorses BDS.
In August, Jewish American activist Simone Zimmerman – a founder of IfNotNow, a group that calls for the end of Israeli occupation – was detained at the Israeli border for more than three hours and interrogated about her political views.
Later in August, Peter Beinart, a writer for the Atlantic Magazine, was detained at Ben-Gurion airport and was subjected to a lengthy interrogation about his political views.
“This is part of a larger picture,” Gold said of Alqasem’s detention. “Each of these cases is different.”
Beyond Alqasem’s willingness to fight her deportation publically, Gold said that the fact she is not currently a leader of a prominent pro-Palestinian organization also makes her case unique.
“In my case, it was very clear that I am an activist. They called me an extreme boycott activist, but they can’t call [Alqasem] that,” Gold said. “What I think my case and [Alqasem’s] case makes clear is that while Israel likes to market itself as a very liberal, Western-style, open country, their thought police are cracking down more and more tightly.”
The decision to deny Alqasem entry has also drawn condemnation from some less traditional critics of Israel.
Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss of the New York Times editorial page, who conceded in a joint column that they can accurately be described as “Zionist fanatics of unhinged proportions,” also criticized the decision.
“Societies that bar their critics aren’t protecting themselves. They are advertising their weakness,” they wrote.
“Israel, like all countries, has a right to protect its borders and to determine who is allowed in and out. But Israel is also a state that prides itself on being a liberal democracy … If liberalism is about anything, it’s about deep tolerance for opinions we find foolish, dangerous and antithetical to our own.”
Over 300 professors also signed a letter in the Guardian Wednesday, claiming Alqasem’s case is “an attack on academic freedom.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended his government’s decision to bar Alqasem, citing Israeli sovereignty and the country’s right to decide who can and cannot cross its borders.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has said that he would consider allowing Alqasem to enter the country and attend the university if she publicly denounces BDS.
Though Alqasem has pointed out she is no longer active in the Students for Justice in Palestine organization, she has refused to publically denounce the boycott campaign.