Lara Alqasem allowed into Israel after Supreme Court overturns entry ban

Two lower courts had ruled she should be denied entry because of her former ties to the BDS movement


Israel’s Supreme Court has overturned a ban on a Palestinian-American student entering the country despite her previous support for the BDS  (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

Lara Alqasem, 22, had attempted to enter Israel in early October in order to start a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

But she was prevented from coming into the country at Ben Gurion Airport after officials were alerted to her previous leadership of the pro-boycott Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Florida.

Under an Israeli law passed last year, foreign nationals who support boycotts against Israel can be barred from entering the country.

Ms Alqasem was permitted to fly out of Ben Gurion to another destination at any time, but decided to stay and fight the ban via legal appeals.

For the last two weeks, she had been held at a detention centre at the airport.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, which came on Thursday evening, overturned the rulings of two lower courts which had upheld the ban.

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel said: “the fight against boycotts is fitting and vital, as are the actions taken by the State of Israel on the matter.

“However, the concrete action before us clearly deviates from the range of reasonableness and cannot be accepted.

“In this case, preventing the entry of the plaintiff does not advance the purpose of the law and it was even argued, for example, by the Hebrew University that it harms Israeli academia.”

Ms Alqasem described herself as “relieved at the court’s decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my amazing and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends.”

”I will be happy to say more when I've had a chance to rest and process.”

Ms Alqasem’s attorneys described the court’s decision as “a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law. Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give the Interior Ministry unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted.”

But the Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, called the Court’s ruling “a disgrace.”

He said: “Where is our national dignity? In the US would she also dare to act against the state and demand to remain and study there?” he asked rhetorically.

“I’ll examine ways to prevent the recurrence of a case like this.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, also strongly condemned the decision by the Supreme Court, saying it “indicated a basic lack of understanding of the nature and methods of the BDS campaign.

“According to the court's logic, Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS campaign, who studied at Tel Aviv University and today works to spread hatred against Israel around the world, was supposed to have become an enthusiastic supporter of Israel due to his studies at Tel Aviv U,” Mr Erdan tweeted.

“The court minimized the extremist & antisemitic nature of SJP, the organization of which Alqasem served as President. Furthermore, the justices essentially ignored the fact that she erased her social media networks in order to hide her activities before arriving in Israel.”

Ms Alqasem admitted that she had supported BDS up until April 2017, but said she had then left the movement, with her intention to study at an Israeli university being proof that she was no longer supporting BDS.

Lawyers for the State had pointed to her deletion of her social media account as suspicious and that her claims to have withdrawn support for the BDS movement could not be trusted.

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