The Tel Aviv administrative appeals court rejected Thursday the appeal of 22-year-old Lara Alqasem, who received a student visa for her master's degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but was denied entry to Ben-Gurion Airport on suspicion of "boycott activity." Alqasemis expected to appeal the ruling again on Friday.
The judge, Dotan Bergman, who delayed the deportation yesterday and demanded that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs explain its request, ruled that the state's decision is “reasonable” and "could not justify intervention." He stressed, however, that "it is superfluous to note that the role of the court is not to establish rules regarding the wisdom of the decision before it, but rather to examine its reasonableness and its conformity with the rules of administrative law."
Bergman noted that his main dilemma was the situation in which Alqasem received a visa but then was not allowed to enter Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport: "My main concern with the appellant's case was that, in fact, all the material that the respondent is presenting now for the justification of his decision could have been obtained by easy and simple means when she approached the consulate in the United States and asked to come to Israel as a student at the university.”
This failure, he noted, "is not only detrimental to the cause itself, but may have implications for the strength of Israeli academia, as opposed to the declared purpose of the struggle against the BDS movement." Bergman, however, was satisfied with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs' statement that they intend to examine the streamlining of the process of issuing entry visas to Israeli consulates around the world in a manner that "avoids as much as possible similar cases in the future."
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On the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, Alqasem, an American with Palestinian grandparents, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, but even though she received a student visa from the Israeli consulate in Miami for a graduate degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she was not allowed to enter Israel.
The interviewers at Ben-Gurion Airport received a warning on their computer that she was suspected of “boycott activity,” and transferred her details to the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which sent them a report on her political activities. According to the report, which was composed of a basic search on Google and the Canary Mission right-wing website as revealed by Haaretz earlier today, Alqasem was a member of an organization called Students for Justice in Palestine.
It was recommended that she will not be let in, but the authors of the report, obtained by Haaretz, stated explicitly: "We are relying on relatively few sources found on the Internet." In a conversation with Haaretz, Alqasem added that the interviewers also asked her about her origins.
During the discussion, Alqasem said that she does not call for a boycott of the State of Israel, because then she would not have wanted to stay and study in an academic institution in Israel. The official response of the Hebrew University stated that it "relies on the court and the state to make the right decision." However, a letter of support sent to Alqasem’s lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel, said that the incident would harm the institution's relations with other universities around the world. The rector, Prof. Barak Medina, said that the Hebrew University operates several international programs in cooperation with universities abroad and that "denying entry to foreign students who have been accepted to such programs, especially when it happens at the airport after they already received a student visa, severely harms the university's relationships with other universities around the world and causes irreversible damage to international ties that the university cultivates."
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs argued in the hearing, based on its online investigation, that Alqasem is a central BDS activist who served as president of the SJP chapter of the University of Florida. Alqasem did not dispute her role there, but claimed that she was not involved in BDS campaigns, and that since April 2017, she has not been a member of the organization, and now does not support BDS at all. She also declared that during her stay in Israel, she would not call for a boycott of Israel or participation in BDS activities. Despite this, the judge decided not to intervene in the decision of the ministry to deport her.
A representative of the ministry stressed in the discussion that the state's right to cancel the visa that Alqasem received was given because the authorities there did not know then about her activities. He said that they intended to hold a "consultation to examine the implementation of the law in a way that would prevent similar cases in the future." The office added as evidence against Alqasem that she had erased her data from the social networks before her arrival. The judge further ruled that the administrative evidence indicates that the SJP is part of NSJP which is included in the list of 20 organizations the Ministry has determined that the entry of its main activists is prohibited.
Alqasem’s lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel, told Haaretz on Sunday night that "the law forbidding the entry of those who criticize Israel's actions is shameful and should stop. The case of Lara Alqasem dealt with the shameful manner in which the law is implemented. It is regrettable the Court was impressed by general and unfounded allegations regarding her activity, which was provided to him by the Ministry for Strategic Affairs. The appellant regrets the ruling and considers her next steps.”