Education Minister on Detained U.S. Student: Hebrew University Shouldn't Have Intervened

'It was not right for the Hebrew University to intervene and take a political side in a categorically political matter,' says Naftali Bennett, adding that anyone who aims to hurt Israel loses the right to enter it

Naftali Bennett at the Lev Academic Center, October 15, 2018
Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticized on Monday the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s support for the American student Lara Alqasem, who was barred from entering the country on the grounds that she supports boycotting Israel.

When asked by Haaretz for his opinion on the affair, Bennett said “It was not right for the Hebrew University to intervene and take a political side in a categorically political matter. It [the university] did not serve itself well,” Bennett said.

Speaking during a tour of Hebrew University, Bennett said he said the same to the university’s president, Prof. Asher Cohen, and added he supports his colleagues in cabinet. “It is the right of a state to decide who may and may not enter its borders,” he said, adding, “Anybody aiming to harm the state loses that right.”

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A student asked Bennett if he regretted using the word “cartel,” when he said on Sunday that he had “broken the cartel of the universities”.

“We are in a democracy. Not all things are dangerous,” Bennett answered, elaborating that he doesn’t want everyone to have to walk on eggshells. “I want everyone to be able to speak openly. I want us to be able to say real things. The extreme culture of the politically correct is what endangers the State of Israel.”

American student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 11, 2018.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Speaking to TheMarker, Cohen said that the state’s actions against Alqasem actually hurts activities by the university and the state against the BDS movement.

Bennett’s comments Sunday about the universities’ cartel inspired Prof. Joseph Klafter, chairman of the heads of the Israeli universities, to state, “Never, in the history of the State of Israel, has the academic year begun with an announcement including statements as crass and provocative by an education minister against Israel’s research universities, which have and still contribute so much to the strength and future of the state,” Klafter said. “Minister Bennett chooses to whip up an internal fight with the institutions and with the people for political reasons.”

Last week the Hebrew University took the unusual step of joining Alqasem’s appeal at the Tel Aviv District Court, which was rejected on Friday.

The court said it could not justify intervening in the case and that the government’s decision to prevent her entry was reasonable. Its ruling was in compliance with the ruling by an administrative appeals court. The university also joined her motion for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which on Sunday suspended her expulsion from the country until Wednesday.

Last week, the Hebrew University senate called on Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Dery to let Alqasem into the country. The senate’s announcement was seen as uncommon. University rector Barak Medina commented that the benefits of barring entrance to a person associated with supporting a boycott of Israel are dubious, and that the detriments of such actions cause great damage.