Israeli Court Rejects Appeal by Lara Alqasem, the U.S. Student Detained at Tel Aviv Airport

Deportation delayed for two days as Alqasem, barred from country and detained for past 10 days, considers requesting that Supreme Court hear her appeal

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Lara Alqasem, center, sitting in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Tel Aviv District Court, October 11, 2018.
Lara Alqasem, center, sitting in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Tel Aviv District Court, October 11, 2018.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The Tel Aviv District Court rejected on Friday the appeal by the American student who was barred entry to Israel over alleged ties to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and detained for 10 days.

The court said it could not justify intervening in the case and that the government's decision to detain her was reasonable, echoing a previous decision by an administrative appeals court. Lara Alqasem, 22, still has the option of requesting that the Supreme Court hear her appeal. Her deportation has been delayed until October 14 at 10 AM.

Her lawyer, Yotam Ben Hillel, said Alqasem "regrets the verdict. It's a sad day. She is reading the verdict and considering her next steps."

Alqasem was accepted as a graduate student at the Hebrew University but was barred from entering the country and detained at Ben-Gurion Airport since October 2 because the Israeli authorities claim she supports an anti-Israel boycott. Alqasem is being held at a facility at the airport despite obtaining a student visa from the Israeli consulate in Miami.

>> Israel left Hebrew University no choice but to oppose Lara Alqasem's deportation in court | Analysis

In response to the court's decision, the Hebrew University put out a statement saying it "regrets the decision not to allow Lara Alqasem to enter Israel and study for a master's degree in law. The student decided to come to study and live in Israel despite the principles of the boycott and even declared her opposition to a boycott of Israel. We believe that the decision of the ministers, the strategic affairs minister and the interior minister, to deport her from Israel is wrong and does not advance the struggle against BDS. On the contrary, it undermines the efforts of Israeli academy to attract foreign students and researchers to international programs."

The Hebrew University continued: "The government has allocated millions of shekels to encourage international programs and research designed to advance the public interest and strengthen the image of the State of Israel in the world. The policy in question goes against this objective."

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan praised the ruling, saying: "I welcome the decision of the District Court, which completely and fully accepted our position... The ruling stated explicitly that the decision was based on Alqasem's activities and actions against the State of Israel and not due to her opinions or thoughts. The court clearly declared that a state has the right to protect itself not only in matters of security, but also to fight boycotts against its products, culture or standing. The judge emphasized that the decision was not made to deter visiting students, because not every student serves as the president of a branch of a prominent boycott organization and tries to hide such by erasing their social media accounts. This is an important ruling that will give us more leeway in our actions directed towards the BDS movement."

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz), who had visited Alqasem in detention, said in response to the ruling: "The court's decision to reject Lara Alqasem's appeal constitutes a severe injury to the freedom of expression, to Israeli academia and to our image in the world."

On Thursday, the court heard the appeal against Alqasem's deportation, which the Hebrew University joined. Representatives of Hebrew University told the court that the refusal to allow Alqasem’s entry has achieved the opposite of fighting the boycott movement.

In March 2017, the Knesset passed a law that bars from Israel any foreigners who have publicly expressed support for boycotting Israel. The interior minister is responsible for enforcing the law. According to the government, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, usually in compliance with recommendations from the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which monitors the international boycott movement.

Ben Hillel said at the hearing that "boycott law states 'deliberately avoiding economic, cultural and academic ties because of its association with Israel.' Alqasem came to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was accepted, paid money and issued a visa. How does this work with a boycott call? The state did not answer that."

Revoking a visa requires strong evidence, Ben Hillel said, "which is not the case here. She invested money and time in moving to Israel. She doesn't have a job to return to in the U.S. and at this point she can't start studying in the U.S."

Ben Hillel said Alqasem is being portrayed in a fantastical manner as a senior activist in the BDS movement. "She was a member in a small organization that at its peak numbered eight people," he said. 

>> While Israel detains U.S. student, it also targets academia | Analysis

"She bore the title ‘president,’ in quotation marks. We have brought letters that testify to it. The activity was limited and they did not bring calls by her for a boycott. All the same battalions of Google searchers in the Strategic Affairs Ministry, pick your hands up for a moment from the keyboard and your head from the screen. Here is a 22-year-old. During this period, she was 19 or 20. When did she have time to be a central activist, as the criteria require for ‘consistent and long-term support for a boycott? This is the demon that you have created," said Ben Hillel.

In response, Yossi Zadok, the attorney representing the state, said the attempts to minimize her involvement by invoking Alqasem’s age and the number of members of her organization was irrelevant, because campuses are the center of BDS activity and by its nature the movement is led by young people. "The language of the law does not require the success of the activities, only the participation itself," he said.

The state said the claim is based on Alqasem's attendance according to Facebook events, adding that as she erased her profile, "We have no way of showing it as evidence."

Ben Hillel responded: "I'm not a big Facebook rat, but if someone clicks 'attending' on Facebook – does it mean he actually participated in the event? Is this the evidence you have?"

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