We're 'Providing Assistance' to Student Denied Entry to Israel and Held at Airport, U.S. Embassy Official Says

Interior Ministry denies request by Israeli university lecturers to visit the U.S. student who has been held in Israel for the past five days after being denied entry over her alleged BDS activism

File photo: Passport control at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport.
Haaretz

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Israel said on Sunday that the United States was aware of the detention of Lara Alqasem, a Palestinian-American student who was denied entry into Israel last week and has been held at the Ben-Gurion Airport for the past five days over her alleged activism for the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement.

"We are aware of the case and our Embassy is providing consular assistance," the embassy official told Haaretz.

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Alqasem, an American citizen whose grandparents are Palestinian, arrived in Israel on Tuesday night, holding a one-year A2 student visa issued to her by the Israeli Consulate in Miami. She is enrolled as an M.A. student in human rights at Hebrew University. Despite holding a valid visa, she was detained at the airport because her name was flagged in the computer as a BDS activist by the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Also Sunday, Israel's Interior Ministry denied the request of a group of lecturers from Jerusalem's Hebrew University to visit the 22-year-old student at the detention facility in the airport where she is being held until a final decision on her issue will be made.

The lecturers explained to the ministry that because Alqasem is a young woman without any relatives in Israel, they just want to make sure that she is doing well and not lacking anything she might need during her detention. Nonetheless, only Alqasem's attorneys have been allowed to visit her thus far.

Lara Alqasem

The Tel Aviv District Court will set a date later on Sunday for its ruling on Alqasem's appeal against Israel’s ban on her entry to Israel.

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Alqasem’s decision to appeal to the Tel Aviv District Court has now delayed her deportation until the court issues a final ruling.

A report on Alqasem’s activities by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, obtained by Haaretz, included information from five web links. Four of the five were from Facebook, and one was from a right-wing website, Canary Mission.

According to the information in the report, classified as “sensitive,” Alqasem was a member of an organization called “Students for Justice in Palestine,” and in 2016–2017, she was president of the local chapter on her campus.

During that time, according to the report, the chapter conducted a campaign calling for the boycott of Sabra hummus, a writers’ petition calling on a cultural center to refuse Israeli sponsorship for its activities and praising the fact that an international security company had stopped operations in Israel.

Alqasem told the appeals court that the chapter in question, of which she had indeed been a member, had only a few members, about five. She said that she was not considered “senior” in the national organization, as stated in the criteria for denial of entry based on Israel’s anti-BDS law.

Alqasem said that at that time she had personally supported boycotts of Israel and had been active in campaigns, but that she left the organization in 2017 and no longer supports BDS. If she did, she told the court, she would not have come to study in Israel. She pledged to the court that while in Israel she would not call for a boycott or participate in BDS activities, either directly or indirectly, and would not visit the occupied territories.