US backs Israel over deportation of pro-BDS student

Israel can decide who enters its country, the U.S. State Department said, referring to Israel’s efforts to deport a student who led anti-Israel activities on her Florida campus.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

“Ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a briefing Tuesday.

Israel’s immigration authority barred Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old of Palestinian extraction, from entering the country a week ago based on her alleged anti-Israel activities at the University of Florida.

Alqasem admits she had been president of the college chapter of the virulently anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The group supports the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement and has glorified terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Organization members often engage in frank anti-Semitism online.

In 2017, the Knesset passed a law barring any non-citizen who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. The government formed a blacklist of some 20 groups, including the SJP.

Alqasem claimed in her first court hearing that she doesn’t identify with BDS anymore, proof being that she applied to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to study for her master’s degree in human rights law. American media have also pointed out the tiny size of the SJP chapter she led, with a membership roll in the single digits.

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Minister for Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan countered in an Army Radio interview Tuesday that Alqasem had been the head of a hate-mongering group for “years.” She was therefore “responsible for those comments of hatred and the silencing of Jewish or pro-Israel students in U.S. universities.”

Alqasem purged social media

Alqasem also acted suspiciously by deleting her social media accounts before getting on the plane to Israel, he said.

However, Erdan later tweeted that if the activist were to “explicitly declare” that her past activity was a mistake which she regrets and that support for BDS is “illegitimate,” he might grant her request to stay in the country.

Several of Alqasem’s U. of Florida teachers urged her release in writing, including her Hebrew professor who said that  she had “never expressed any negative sentiment or anger about Israel.” Her Holocaust history professor praised “her passion for questions regarding the interplay between law, justice and the work of memory in relation to Jewish history.”

Three Knesset members from Meretz have already visited the detained student to show their support. Hebrew University, her intended destination, asked to join Alqasem’s appeal against the deportation decision.

Voices from within the government questioning the decision have also been raised. Knesset Member and former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren released a press statement Wednesday stating, “As in any sovereign state, Israel has the right and even the duty to prevent the entry of those who want to destroy it,” but “the policy that is being implemented now is clearly causing us political damage, so the officials responsible for its enforcement must carefully examine whether Lara Alqasem really does support BDS.”

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Oren also pressed for “a reexamination of Israel’s policy in order to protect ourselves and our image as a democratic and enlightened society.”

The Tel Aviv District Court of Appeals will hold another hearing on the case Sunday.