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US student detained in Israel over support of Palestinian-led boycott

US student detained in Israel over support of Palestinian-led boycott

An American student has been detained at an Israeli airport for more than a week due to her past support for a boycott against the country.

Lara Alqasem arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Oct. 2, but was blocked from entering the country, The Washington Post reported Monday.

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The 22-year-old, who is from Florida and is of Palestinian descent, was set to start a law degree program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but has not yet been able to travel to campus since she was detained last week. 

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that he might reconsider her case if she admits all connections and publicly denounces the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Erdan's ministry passed a law in 2017 allowing officials to ban foreign citizens from entering the country if they have participated in or supported a boycott against Israel or its West Bank settlements.

Alqasem is the 15th person to be denied entry into the country since the law went into effect, The Post reported.

Erdan said in a statement that Alqasem was the president of “one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the U.S.”

"Israel has the right to decide which foreign nationals can enter. Israel’s parliament passed legislation to prevent entry of foreign nationals who seek to harm the state and its security through the anti-Semitic BDS campaign,” Erdan said.

He denied reports that Alqasem was being incarcerated and said she is free to return to the U.S. whenever she wants.

“Israel welcomes students of all backgrounds and political opinions to study in Israel, but, like any democracy, will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse,” Erdan said.

Israel compiles data on BDS activists, often by including information from Canary Mission, an anonymous website that claims to identify “individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.”

The Post noted that Alqasem’s Canary Mission profile states that she was president of Students for Justice in Palestine when she was a student at the University of Florida.

Her father is of Palestinian heritage, the newspaper noted. 

Alqasem has challenged the deportation order against her in an appeal, saying she never was a senior member of the pro-Palestine group on her college campus and no longer supports BDS.

“Even if she supported a boycott in the past, we are talking about someone who now wants to come to Israel,” her attorney, Yotam Ben-Hillel, told the newspaper.

Officials at Hebrew University, where she intends to study, are calling for her release. 

Hebrew University Rector Barak Medina said authorities prevented the school’s representatives from visiting with Alqasem.

“Lara is very determined, she is optimistic, and she is still in a great mood for a 22-year-old that had been held in detention for six days,” party leader Tamar Zandberg said. “She is determined to go through the procedure and would rather spend a few more days incarcerated if it would give her a better chance to enter Israel.”

A local court is expected to make a decision on her case this week, the newspaper reported.