Saturday, 20 October, 2018

USA student Lara Alqasem held in Israel over BDS support

Bari Weiss at her desk in The New York Times office in Midtown Manhattan Bari Weiss at her desk in The New York Times office in Midtown Manhattan
Jeannette Daniel | 11 October, 2018, 21:27

Lara Alqasem has been at Ben Gurion Airport since October 2, when security flagged her for involvement in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement - an worldwide campaign that calls for boycotts of Israel over Palestinian and human rights.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has said that he would consider allowing Alqasem to take up her university place if she publicly denounces BDS.

Dror Abend-David added that she was "someone who very much wanted to study global relations in Israel to develop her own opinion on the conflict".

But when Alqasem arrived at Tel Aviv's global airport last week, she was blocked from entering the country.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she was an activist in the boycott movement.

Erdan said Thursday Alasquem "worked as head of a branch of the boycott organization and promoted its activities against the state of Israel".

The United States said Wednesday it supports freedom of expression and that its embassy in Jerusalem was offering Alqasem consular assistance.

He argued that her treatment was actually strengthening the BDS campaign to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP late Tuesday that Lara Alqasem was being held at an immigration facility but was not under arrest.

She was also a president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

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"Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the US", said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is charge of the Israeli government's efforts against the boycott group.

The grassroots boycott campaign, known as BDS, has targeted Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities in what it says is nonviolent resistance to unjust and racist Israeli policies. But Israel says its true goal is to delegitimize and even destroy the country. "We don't want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and destroy us", he said this week.

Former professors have described Alqasem as a curious and open-minded student.

American Lara Alqasem sits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday. Both journalists are normally strong supporters of Israel. More than 300 academics penned a letter in the British Guardian Wednesday calling the case "an attack on academic freedom". "We have clear criteria", he said.

Those who have spoken to her say she is being detained at the airport in a room with bedbugs and no internet access.

Israel enacted a law previous year banning entry for any foreigner who "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel". It so far has blocked 15 people from entering, according to Erdan's ministry.

Jared Glosser, the Israeli engagement co-ordinator at the University of Florida Hillel, a campus Jewish group, said he had never come into contact with Alqasem.

"How can she be a BDS supporter if she wants to attend a Hebrew University?"

"In my job, I really don't have to deal with BDS really at all", he said.

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