U.S. Student Who Was Denied Entry Into Israel to Remain in Detention Until Sunday

The 22-year-old Lara Alqasem's appeal was denied by Israel after she was detained at the airport due to her alleged BDS activity, despite having an Israeli student visa

FILE Photo: Border control at Ben Gurion Airport
Eyal Toueg

A 22-year-old American graduate student with Palestinian grandparents who was denied entry into Israel late Tuesday night over her alleged involvement in anti-Israel boycott activities will remain in detention at Ben-Gurion International Airport until at-least Sunday.

On Thursday, an Interior Ministry appeals tribunal denied an appeal filed by the student, Lara Alqasem, who was detained at the airport despite having an Israeli student visa issued to enable her to pursue graduate studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Friday, her lawyer filed a further appeal to the Tel Aviv district court.

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A hearing on the case will held sometime next week. In the interim, the Interior Ministry has been ordered not to deport her at least until Sunday.

As reported this week by Haaretz, internal documents from the Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry, which is involved in combatting the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions movement against Israel, uses simple Google searches, including information from the controversial American right-wing website Canary Mission, to bar political activists from entering Israel. In recent months, several American citizens who have been detained on entering Israel over their political activity have reported that their questioning was based on profiles from the Canary Mission website, which tracks pro-Palestinian activists on American college campuses.

Material, some of which was submitted to the Interior Ministry appeals tribunal in Alqasem's case, included information from just five internet links – four from Facebook and one, the primary source of information, from Canary Mission. Upon Alqasem's arrival at Ben-Gurion airport Tuesday, computers flagged her as a BDS activist. When airport personnel sent her personal details to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the ministry responded with a report on her political activity.

Lara Alqasem

>> Read more: Young Jewish activists furious over San Francisco Federation's support of Canary Mission 

According to the links, which were the basis for the decision to suspend the student visa that Alqasem had been granted by the Israeli Consulate in Miami, she was president of the Florida chapter of a group called Students for Justice in Palestine. The National Students for Justice in Palestine is on a list of 20 groups that the Strategic Affairs Ministry has compiled to enforce the anti-boycott law, but Alqasem was not a member at the national level, rather a local activist. She told the appeals tribunal that the local chapter had only a few members.

Alqasem added that she is not currently a member of any pro-boycott group and would not come to study for her M.A. in Israel if she were.

The ministry’s criteria for invoking the anti-boycott law state clearly that activists must “hold senior or significant positions in the organizations,” including “official senior roles in prominent groups" (such as board membership) if they are to be barred from the country.

However the report on Alqasem does not indicate that she was a “senior” official in a national movement, nor was that the case for other young people questioned recently at the airport. In some cases, it was the Shin Bet security service that questioned people over their prior participation in activities such as demonstrations in the territories, but not BDS activities.

“Key activists,” according to the ministry’s criteria, also means people who “consistently take part in promoting BDS in the framework of prominent delegitimization groups or independently, and not, for example, an activist who comes as part of a delegation.”