Israeli court orders release of U.S. student accused of boycott

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday ordered the release of an American student who had been prevented from entering the country to attend college due to her alleged connection to a Palestinian movement.

American student Lara Alqasem, 22, was allowed to leave Ben Guion International Airport on Thursday after Israel's high court overturned her deportation. UPI Photo | License Photo
American student Lara Alqasem, 22, was allowed to leave Ben Guion International Airport on Thursday after Israel’s high court overturned her deportation. UPI Photo | License Photo

The court, by a vote of 3-0, overturned the deportation of Lara Alqasem, 22, and permitted her to study at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Officials detained Alqasem at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv for more than two weeks. She traveled to Israel to begin a master’s degree program in human rights from her home in Southwest Ranches, Fla., in the United States.

Officials denied entry for Alqasem, whose grandparents were Palestinian, over her alleged involvement in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, an international campaign that calls for boycotts of Israel over concerns surrounding the country’s treatment of Palestinians. As a student at the University of Florida, she was member of the Students for Justice in Palestine, which showed support for the movement.

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University professors said she quit the group and started focusing on understanding both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before she went to Jerusalem. Her mother, Karen Alqasem, said her daughter was involved in the group for one semester — and her decision to attend Hebrew University shows her willingness to acknowledge, not boycott, Israel.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, though, doubted her motivations and said she created a new platform for anti-Israeli activity. Canary Mission, a website that tracks antisemitism on college campuses, shows Alqasem joined the group in 2014 and was its president between 2016 and 2017.

Israel prohibits foreigners from entering the country if they have called for bans on Israel or its settlements. The prohibition has affected other Americans, including journalist Peter Beinart and Ariel Gold, the director of women’s peace group Code Pink.

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In reaction to her release, Hebrew University said it will welcome “our newest student, Lara Alqasem, as she begins her M.A. in Human Rights & Transitional Justice at our law school next week.”

Alqasem’s lawyers said the ruling was “a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law…Lara has ensured that no one else should be denied the right to enter Israel based on sloppy Google searches.”

ByDanielle Haynes