Published: Fri, October 19, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Detained American Graduate Student Allowed To Study In Israel, Court Rules

Detained American Graduate Student Allowed To Study In Israel, Court Rules

An American graduate student will be allowed to study in Israel after Israel's Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling barring her from entering the country over her past involvement in a boycott movement.

She issued the following statement through her lawyers: "I'm relieved at the court's decision and am incredibly grateful for the work of my wonderful and tireless well as the support of my family and friends", adding that she "will be happy to say more when I've had a chance to rest and process".

Lara Alqasem, who was born in the United States but is of Palestinian descent, entered Israel on a student visa earlier this month, but was barred from entering and has been held in Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport since.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law", said Alqasem attorney Leora Bechor.

Her case touched off a debate in Israel over whether democratic values had been compromised by a 2017 law that bars the entry of foreigners who publicly support boycotts over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

Alqasem, 22, was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport upon her arrival on October 2 after she was flagged as a BDS activist.

She turned to the high court Wednesday after a lower court rejected her appeal.

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The transcript will then be reviewed by the Intelligence Community to avoid the public dissemination of classified or otherwise protected information.

Authorities accused her of supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, against Israel. She had hoped to study Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but Israeli officials issued a deportation order when it was discovered that she had once been president of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of Florida.

"I'm relieved at the court's decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my fantastic and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends", she told the Haaretz newspaper upon her release.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the state's evidence was not enough to justify its use of the anti-boycott law. Alqasem purged her social media accounts before coming to Israel. It said that if her deportation was based on her political opinion, then the state's order was "a radical and risky step" that could erode Israeli democracy. The Anti-Defamation League argued that Alqasem should be allowed to stay and study in Israel. "This damages the ability of the state of Israel to combat boycott activists that harm us all".

Alqasem says she left SJP in 2017 and is no longer part of the BDS movement.

But Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin called the court decision "shameful" and said that with their decision, the justices "were continuing to act against Israeli democracy and the clear lawmaking of the Knesset".

"Since the appellant's actions do not raise satisfactory cause to bar her to entry to Israel, the inevitable impression is that invalidating the visa given to her was due to the political opinions she holds", the court said, according to Haaretz. In the U.S. would she also dare to act against the state and demand to remain and study there?

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