USA student held in Israel refuses deal from prosecutors

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens

An American graduate student in detention at Israel's global airport over allegations that she promotes a boycott of the Jewish state appealed her detention Thursday before an Israeli court in Tel Aviv. The more than weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case.

Alqasem is the former leader at the University of Florida of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, an offshoot of the larger BDS movement.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student with Palestinian grandparents, who landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last week with a valid student visa. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says that she is not "incarcerated" and is free to return to the United States "anytime she wishes". "The state's argument and evidence was weak, but I've learned not to be optimistic", her lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel said, referring to a court's rejection of Alqasem's first appeal.

Israel, and Erdan in particular, have come under widespread criticism for their handling of Alqasem's case.

The ministry says that during Alqasem's involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the club advocated a boycott against Sabra hummus, an Israeli-owned brand of chickpea dip.

A United States student arrested upon arrival in Tel Aviv over her support of an anti-Israel movement appeared in a court in the occupied territories on Thursday to challenge the Israeli regime's entry ban.

Israel insists that Alqasem headed "one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups in the U.S.", according to Erdan. The student denies supporting BDS, but the government claims that Alqasem had deliberately edited her social media accounts to obscure her activism.

"Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the US", said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is charge of the Israeli government's efforts against the boycott group. "We don't want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and destroy us", he said this week. Both journalists are normally strong supporters of Israel. The guards took away the student's phone, and in most cases the only person who she is allowed to call is her lawyer. BDS gets its name from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel for what it calls its poor treatment of the Palestinians.

Those who have spoken to her say she is being detained at the airport in a room with bedbugs and no internet access. It also has identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival.

The Florida native had been accepted into a graduate program at Jerusalem's Hebrew University and was issued a student's visa by the Israeli consulate in Miami.

The letter argued that detaining someone who participated in a campaign over which brand of hummus is stocked by her university is a bad defense against BDS.

"In my job, I really don't have to deal with BDS really at all", he said.

In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.

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