Today’s news that the Israeli Supreme Court is allowing Lara Alqasem of Florida to come into Israel to study for her Master’s at the Hebrew University is great news for the 22-year-old Palestinian American student who has spent two weeks detained at Ben Gurion Airport, even though she had a visa.
It is also a victory for liberal Zionist advocacy groups who turned up the heat on Israel in recent days to say that the country’s battle against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is misguided if the government thinks it is winning anyone over by denying entry to an American who says she wants to learn about Israel and who though she once supported BDS says she no longer does, and wouldn’t be studying at the Hebrew University if she did. The LetHerStay pressure campaign mounted by J Street, New Israel Fund, and Americans for Peace Now among others seems to have paid off.
And Benjamin Netanyahu and his minister for public security Gilad Erdan, who kept doubling down on keeping Alqasem out, lost big, and have been publicly humiliated.
The people missing from the Alqasem victory parade, though, are all those American elected officials who usually stand up for citizens in a bind overseas.
“I am not aware of any Members of Congress or candidates for federal office speaking out about Lara Alquasem,” Jessica Rosenblum of J Street says.
Two weeks ago the Miami Herald quoted US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alqasem’s congresswoman, defending the Israeli government:
On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Herald: “Israeli law prohibits entry of individuals involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I support Israel’s right to do that, as a sovereign state. Ms. Alqasem is my constituent, and her family has reached out to my office seeking assistance. We have opened a constituent case, and are gathering information regarding this situation.”
I repeatedly emailed Wasserman Schultz’s staff to get updates on what they were doing. They never responded.
Meantime, Cody O’Rourke, a friend of Alqasem, circulated a petition over the last few days blasting the silence of Alqasem’s political representatives. “People are working at all levels and around the world to free Lara,” he wrote, but:
To date, none of Alqasem’s elected officials from Florida have publicly supported her or defended the fundamental principles of democracy and free speech at issue in Alqasem’s case. Since Oct. 2nd, thousands of people have sent letters to their representatives across the United States demanding that they act on Alqasem’s behalf. People have been calling Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Marco Rubio, and Bill Nelson, Alqasem’s elected representatives, urging them to use their power and responsibility to speak on Lara’s behalf, Their action could greatly improve her chance to avoid deportation and to pursue her education…
That petition asked “Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Marco Rubio, and Bill Nelson to issue a public statement of support not only for Alqasem, but for freedom of speech, political thought, and academic integrity.”
These Florida politicians are obviously all scared of crossing Israel, given the importance of Jewish voters in the sunshine state, and pro-Israel donors in our political process.
How pathetic is that?
The State Department also hung Lara Alqasem out to dry ala Wasserman Schultz. State had a consular officer accompany her to the hearing, it said, but that was about it. “It’s ultimately up to the Government of Israel, or any country for that matter, to decide which individuals, which Americans, it wants to let in. Okay?” said Heather Nauert.
J Street has long said that it is building a middle ground on Israel in American politics–completely supportive of Israel and all the money and weapons we supply Israel, but also supportive of Palestinian rights under a “two-state solution.” Lara Alqasem was surely a poster child for J Street because it was able to champion a Palestinian-American who was bravely demanding her rights and also issue righteous criticisms of the BDS campaign and the Netanyahu government.
But that middle ground was sadly nowhere evident in the last week. Netanyahu has low approval ratings in the U.S., even among American Jews. J Street has endorsed numerous congressional candidates, including four in Florida (among them Donna Shalala the educator and former Obama diplomat Nancy Soderberg).
And no one spoke out for Lara Alqasem. What a pity.