The 22-year-old student had her second appeal hearing on Thursday, but the court is yet to announce its final ruling.
Alqasem, whose father is Palestinian, arrived in Israel with a valid student visa hoping to study human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But officials say she can’t be allowed to enter the country because of her ties to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is set to boycott Israel over its occupation of the West Bank. The student denies supporting BDS, but the government claims that Alqasem had deliberately edited her social media accounts to obscure her activism.
During her appeal, Alqasem argued that she never actively participated in anti-Israeli campaigns. She “simply wants to study in Israel” and does not wish to promote any sort of boycott, the student’s lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel told the Washington Post.
Lara’s mother, Karen Alqasem explained that studying and getting to know the country was her daughter’s life-long dream. She confirmed to AP that in her native Florida, Lara indeed led a local student club Students for Justice in Palestine, which supports BDS, but did so only for a semester and left the organization last year.
“She may have been critical of some of Israel’s policies in the past but she respects Israeli society and culture. To her, this isn’t a contradiction,” her mother said.
Alqasem is currently held in a detention facility in Ben Gurion Airport. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says that she is not “incarcerated” and is free to return to the US “anytime she wishes.”
Speaking to her mother last week, the student complained about living in a cell that is infested with bedbugs. The guards took away the student’s phone, and in most cases the only person who she is allowed to call is her lawyer. Lara said she’s been left “completely cut off from the world,” her mother reported.
Israel insists that Alqasem headed “one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups in the US,” according to Erdan. The minister later hinted that the government might consider letting Alqasem into Israel if she declares the support for BDS “illegitimate” and “regrets what she did on this matter.” He also called the campaign “anti-Semitic.”
Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel's destruction #LaraAlqasem 2/5
— גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) October 8, 2018
A law adopted by the nation’s parliament last year allows officials to bar people affiliated with or openly supporting BDS from entering Israel. But its use to ban foreign students for political activism has now come under fire from both US and Israeli academics, including the Hebrew University staff.
This is a crucial time to raise our voice – it is outrageous that Lara is in detention. And for some of the people on this list, can we apply these values to all Palestinian refugees who are regularly detained, harassed, and denied entry to their home? https://t.co/7Z70NWYybJ
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) October 8, 2018
The practice is “an improper use of powers” which “very seriously” harms the academic ties of Israeli universities, Alon Harel, a law professor at the Hebrew University .
“People will not register to Israeli universities, they will have to reconsider their decision to come here,” the scholar argues. “They want to cooperate with the country that enjoyed free exchange of ideas.”