Under the hashtag #LetHerStay, left-wing American Jewish organizations have launched a campaign in the United States to pressure the Israeli government to change its position on allowing Lara Alqasem to enter the country to pursue graduate studies in human rights at Hebrew University.
The campaign, spearheaded by J Street, has also been joined by other partner organizations: Americans For Peace Now, T’ruah, Reconstructing Judaism, the National Council for Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, and Ameinu.
“Lara poses no threat to Israel,” said Jessica Rosenblum, J Street’s Vice President of Public Engagement. “But that’s not to say no damage is being done. The government’s treatment of Lara and other critics of the occupation is doing serious harm to Israel’s reputation... alienating Israel’s friends and providing ammunition to its enemies. Those of us who care about Israel’s democracy need to push back, starting by urging the government to let Lara stay.”
The campaign directs activists to the telephone numbers, email and social media accounts of Israeli ambassadors and consuls across the U.S., encouraging them to deliver a message to them, as well as to the U.S. and United Nations ambassadors, that “strong democracies don’t punish their critics.”
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On the eve of Alqasem’s Wednesday appeal before the Israeli Supreme Court in her final attempt to remain in the country, members of the groups participated in a J Street-sponsored Facebook Live discussion with Leora Bechor, a member of Alqasam’s legal team and MK Tamar Zandberg, leader of the Meretz Party, who visited Alqasem in detention, where she has been held for 15 days.
Alqasem’s appeal was heard Wednesday, challenging the decision to prevent her from entering Israel. Alqasem, 22, 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.
Zandberg told the Facebook audience that when she visited Alqasem she seemed like a typical American overseas student and that she appeared somewhere “between confused and amused” by her situation.
Bechor pushed back on arguments that Alqasem is proving that she is an anti-Israel activist by acting as a martyr through her insistence on remaining in detention at Ben-Gurion airport instead of returning home to fight her legal case from abroad. “She is staying because there is urgency to her case. School has started, the semester has started, and she doesn’t have the financial means to go back and then pay for another ticket.”
“She is an exceptional young lady, curious and passionate, and she wants to be here. She wants to study in her program,” Bechor said.
Meanwhile, students at Hebrew University, organized by Jewish-Arab group Standing Together, protested Alqasem's detention, hanging signs on seats in university classrooms saying "reserved for Lara Alqasem."