When Israeli Patriotism Exceeds Rationalism and the Good of the State

The treatment of Lara Alqasem by Israeli ministers Dery and Erdan shows that the true patriot is immune to logic

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Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018
Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Lara Alqasem’s decision to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — conduct that patently demonstrates opposition to boycotting Israel — didn’t help her. The Tel Aviv District Court denied her appeal Friday, upholding the state’s refusal of entry.

Nor did her avowal not to take part in boycott calls help. The court determined that cabinet members erred in assuming an organization she was affiliated with is connected to Students for Justice in Palestine. Even removing this critical component from the argument against Alqasem did not help.

The court said her role in boycott calls was not lessened by the fact that the Florida university group she headed had just five to eight members — despite the obvious importance of numbers to such calls.

The court was oblivious to the groundlessness of the reasons given for refusing entry. Instead, it adopted the authorities’ position and tried to bolster it, adding data purporting to show that her organization supported perpetrators of terror. This is troublesome, but unrelated to boycott calls. Unsupported claims by the state were given weight in the proceedings.

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What tipped the balance against Alqasem was the court’s impression that she was not credible. This was baseless. The expectation that she confess voluntarily and without prompting to all past sins when applying for a visa is unreasonable, particularly in light of her repudiation of SJP. Who in her position would have provided full disclosure? Obviously, the responsibility for granting a visa is the authorities’, which failed by not doing even a cursory search of social media.

Especially under such circumstances, the court erred in rejecting the possibility of different criteria in granting or canceling a visa. Alqasem was within her rights to delete her social media history before arriving in Israel. It accords with her turning over a new leaf regarding support for a boycott as much as it does with the notion of a plot. One should be cautious in giving accusatory interpretation to legal acts. Relying on recordings of her questioning — which she was not asked to confirm and which could reflect miscommunication with her interviewer — in order to cast aspersions on her, is unseemly. The court ascribed to her a version that was different than the one she gave. According to the court, she claimed that she took no part in any SJP activity, whereas her interview transcript showed her admitting to going to one protest.

The court did not rule out possible damage to the university but it was not overly impressed by this due to the case’s special circumstances. The court thereby assumed that readers and listeners pay attention to detail. Even for a thorough reader, the state’s conduct would deter anyone who ever called for a boycott or supported Palestinian opposition to the occupation. Such a person is invited by Israel to refrain from coming here for any reason. The fact that what is perceived as an intention to work for Palestinian rights is suspect and hostile to the state will anger and deter many people. The state’s indifference to the situation Alqasem found herself in after obtaining a visa — in detention and unable to study at a university that admitted her, despite not posing a security risk — is an invitation to stay away.

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The foundation of the ruling — the claim that Alqasem might promote a boycott of Israel while studying here — is groundless. It makes shadows of real objects. Is it conceivable that she would call or promote a boycott, knowing that the eyes of suspicious authorities are on her and that she would be deported and prosecuted, and that the Hebrew University and her own credibility would suffer?

One can never predict with certainty human behavior but if this ruling were based on common sense and on the positive testimony of her teachers in the United States and on her personality, the judges would conclude that the risks she poses are negligible.

Moreover, it seems that the ones deciding did not address the following issues: Assuming she is a malicious and wily agent supporting a boycott, where is her potential danger greater, here or after her return to the U.S.? Assuming that her declaration regarding her intention was sincere, consider the advantage the campaign against a boycott could have gained from someone studying at the Hebrew University?

The interesting fact is that all the juridical agencies dealing with her case, based on its reasonableness and not its wisdom, were uncomfortable with it. They expressed this delicately by asking the relevant cabinet ministers to re-examine the issue. The district court also stated that it wasn’t addressing the issue of the efficacy of using the amended anti-boycott law, which allows prohibiting entry to pro-boycott activists as a tool in the anti-boycott campaign, and refrained from imposing legal costs on Alqasem.

On this backdrop, cabinet ministers Arye Dery and Gilad Erdan appear as giants, in their determined and stubborn patriotic stance. In this new patriotism, the fact that government actions harm Israel only strengthen the patriot. This is a patriotism that exceeds rationalism and the good of the state. What is perceived as patriotic by the “base,” and for this the name Alqasem suffices, is something one must insist on and flex muscles, and to hell with the state.

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