Israel has detained a Palestinian American college student for a week because of her alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The government will not let her enter the country, despite her student visa.
While security officials at Israeli borders have subjected several foreign activists and intellectuals—including American Jews—to extensive questioning and detention, the Associated Press described the case of Lara Alqasem, who is a U.S. citizen, as “first-of-its-kind.” She has been held at Ben-Gurion Airport since last week, the AP reported, “but she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported,” which the news agency described as “the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case.”
A law passed last year bans entry for foreigners who support boycotts of Israel.
Upon being denied entry she appealed and, after losing an initial decision, remained detained at Ben-Gurion awaiting another appeal.
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said that Alqasem could be free to enter Israel “if she publicly condemned a boycott of Israel,” the Israeli newspaper Haaertz reported. “[If] Alqasem comes forward tomorrow morning with her own voice, not with all sorts of lawyers’ wisecracking and statements that could be construed this way or another—and declares that supporting BDS, she thinks today, is illegitimate and she regrets what she did on this matter, we will consider our stance,” he told Israeli army radio, according to Haaertz.
Erdan also tweeted, “The accusation that she is incarcerated in Israel is blatantly false. She is free to return to her home in the US anytime she wishes.”
Erdan pointed to her alleged membership in Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida, a Palestinian activist group that supports the BDS movement and led a boycott of Sabra hummus. The group Canary Mission compiled a public dossier on Alqasem and said she was a vice president of the campus group, which the Israeli government later cited to justify denying her entry.
The Canary Mission website, described by the magazine Forward as a “shadowy online blacklist targeting college students who criticize Israel,” is published and operated anonymously. It has no public affiliation with the Israeli government—recent reporting showed that it had received funding from an American Jewish group—but several activists have alleged that the Israeli government is using Canary Mission’s lists and profiles to identify activists who are trying to enter the country for further questioning and investigation.
“I don’t support BDS. If I supported it, I wouldn’t be able to come to Israel as a student,” Alqasem told an Israeli court, according to Haaertz.
Alqasem was “registered to study human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem,” the AP reported, and the school is now supporting her and has joined her appeals.
One of her professors at the University of Florida who taught her first-year Hebrew course said in a letter to Haaertz that Alqasem “was curious about Israel and never expressed any negative sentiment or anger about Israel.”