Analysis

It's Not Lara Alqasem or BDS That Israelis Need to Fear

The aim of preventing the entry of key boycott activists against Israel is preventative, not punitive. The government fears that those who come to Israel will visit the occupied territories

Lara Alqasem after Israel's Supreme Court overturned her deportation at Ben-Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2018.
Dudu Bachar

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the decision to deport Lara Alqasem and let her enter the country was an expected one. Any court not held captive to the paradigm of justifying an executive decision would have reached the same conclusion.

But we have to admit that some courts are captives of this paradigm, as reflected by the lower-court verdicts on the subject. This is why even this anticipated ruling could not be taken for granted. It’s of interest that even veteran Justice Neal Hendel, who went out of his way to justify the so-called boycott law and praise it, was a key supporter of the decision.

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Only irrational thinking could lead to the conclusion that Alqasem is a key boycott activist whose activities are significant (rather than marginal or negligible), and that it’s of no importance that she broke from the organization about a year and a half before seeking a visa.

Of course, only a lack of rational thought could explain how the authorities were ignoring how Lara was here to study at Hebrew University, the exact opposite of what a boycotter would do. A lack of straight thinking is required to ignore her declaration that she wouldn’t take part in any boycott activity while in Israel.

Only someone defying reality could conclude that we could ignore the damage her deportation would cause the university (which behaved honorably throughout this incident), as well as to other Israeli academic institutions. Then of course there’s the damage that could have been done to Alqasem by canceling the visa she relied on to organize her life, and the damage to Israel’s image as a result of the authorities’ treatment of her.

Test yourself: how closely have you been following the Lara Alqasem affair?

The ruling’s importance is mainly in establishing the principle that the aim of preventing the entry of key boycott activists against Israel is preventative, not punitive. The main center of gravity is in the present; in other words, whether the person who requested the visa had been working for a boycott group at that particular moment.

We should also recall the words of Justice Anat Baron that it’s unavoidable to see that voiding the visa that Alqasem received had to with her political views and that this approach was “an extremist step that could lead to the disintegration of the main tenets of Israeli democracy.” And let’s also recall the lack of reason on the part of the executive branch and the utter irrationality that clearly held sway.

U.S. student Lara Alqasem arrives for a hearing at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 17, 2018.
AFP

A key question is why Israel would prefer for boycott activity against the country to be conducted beyond its borders rather than at home. It seems the risk is greater in terms of the potential influence of calls to boycott Israel made from beyond its borders, while the ability to intervene and respond to boycott calls is greater from inside the country.

The answer is that the government fears that those who come to Israel will visit the occupied territories. In this sense government policy has been consistent about concealing and falsifying anything that goes on in the territories.

This is the source of the persecution of human rights groups dealing with the territories. Those who fear for Israeli democracy should be panic-stricken by this phenomenon. After all, how will Israeli voters form an opinion about the future of the territories without receiving realistic information about them?

From this standpoint it’s hard to read Hendel’s words about defending democracy via the boycott law. More than defending Israeli democracy, the law defends the anti-democratic regime in the territories, a regime of denying political and other rights, of oppression, discrimination, dispossession and persecution.

Irrationality stands at the center of the conduct of cabinet ministers Gilad Erdan and Arye Dery – the search for enemies everywhere, making a mountain out of a molehill, refusing to review their decisions as they were asked to do at the earlier stages of discussions, and finally, their shrill reactions to the court, along with those by other ministers (who see no room for any criticism).

The ministers show that they can accept judicial review only when their steps win approval. From their standpoint there’s no room for judicial review at all unless it’s by judges of their choosing nodding in approval.

In the fight for awareness, it’s important who’s seen as the winner. Erdan comes across as a devout supporter of boycotts, for by illogically proclaiming the decision as a win for the boycotters, he has handed them a victory. He is loyally executing the policy of a government acting for Israel to be boycotted by its conduct in the territories and the blows dealt to Israeli democracy.

A critical example of this is establishment of the college in Ariel and its recent upgrade to a university in a swipe at the entire Israeli higher-education establishment, and at the price of hurting the independence and standards of the Council for Higher Education.

It’s not Lara Alqasem that Israelis need to fear, but our government acting in the service of the boycotters.