Trending Topics:

Lara Alqasem’s case highlights the need for the academic boycott of Israel

on 15 Comments

The case of Lara Alqasem, the American citizen fighting deportation from Israel, is shining a bright light on Israel’s racial profiling of American students, the growing witch hunt against BDS activists, and the very real impact of smear websites. Alqasem said when the Israeli immigration  officer interviewing her upon arrival looked her up online, the first website that appeared was her profile on the extreme right wing anti-Palestinian “Canary Mission,” which shows her as past president of the University of Florida’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Her case is also catapulting into prominence the rationale behind the academic boycott of Israel, and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (USACBI) recently launched campaign to end Study Abroad in Israel programs at American universities.

Alqasem, who is of Palestinian descent, had been accepted into a graduate program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and obtained a student visa to Israel, only to be denied entry into the country upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on October 2nd.  As I write this, over a week later, she is still in detention, awaiting the verdict from her October 11 court hearing. Alqasem has become a cause celebre, with major newspapers (Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times,  The Chronicle of Higher Education, and more) reporting on her case and, in an interesting series of twists, Zionists of all stripes rooting for her admission into the country.

While we can only support victims of racial profiling and ideological exclusion, much of the advocacy she is receiving is highly problematic. Many of her defenders present Hebrew University as a positive force, a welcoming institution, and Alqasem as a “good Palestinian,” so long as she denounces and renounces BDS.  Indeed, the attempts to distance her from BDS are coming from everyone who supports her. Her lawyer, Yonatan Ben-Hillel, claims: “We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything.” And her Hebrew language teacher at the University of Florida, Dror Abend-David, in a letter to the editor of Haaretz, also wrote:  “Apparently the fact that she chose and was accepted by Hebrew University in Jerusalem demonstrates that she wasn’t boycotting Israel.”  Abend-David continues: “When she told me that she was about to study in Jerusalem, I understood from her that she had simply chosen the best program in the academic field that she was in. The State of Israel, which takes pride in the academic system that it presents to the world, needs to act accordingly.”

Thus the advocacy in support of Alqasem is whitewashing Israeli academia, and showing it to be a victim of the far right, even though there is ample documentation that all Israeli universities are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. This is done through a Zionist curriculum that negates Palestinian culture and history, but also, more concretely, in engineering and architecture departments that develop plans for the illegal settlements, as well as the surveillance technology to monitor Palestinian  movement. Hebrew University, in particular, straddles both East and West Jerusalem, in violation of international law. Additionally, the elite research universities develop the weapons used in Israel’s repeated military assaults on Palestinians.

At the same time, whether she intended it or not, Alqasem’s case raises questions within the Palestine solidarity movement beyond her desire to live and study in Jerusalem.  As Ali Abunimah points out, Alqassem’s decision to enroll at Hebrew University undermines the academic boycott of Israel.  Indeed, the president of Hebrew University, Asher Cohen, cited anti-BDS efforts as his motivation for helping Alqasem. “What’s being done regarding this student hurts our activities against BDS,” Cohen said, thus basically acknowledging he is more interested in fighting BDS than helping any particular student. “She [Alqasem] wants to come here and learn. For a year…. She says she’s coming to study for a year. … That activity of hers is against BDS.” A Haaretz editorial, urging her release, similarly uses her case as a strike against BDS. Alqasem, the editorial states, “should be released immediately and Erdan’s secret thought police eliminated. This must be done before boycott activists have another excellent reason to call Israel a benighted country.”

And much as one can understand Alqasem’s desire to get to know her grandparents’ country, our support must not be allowed to jettison BDS. The cause is greater than any individual.  BDS is the strategy called for by a majority of Palestinian civil institutions in order to secure all Palestinians’ right to enter their homeland, regardless of their views on Israel and Zionism.

As USACBI explained:

“The global BDS movement is opposed to international study in Israel. USACBI encourages students in the US who want to enroll in academic programs in the region to explore options at Palestinian universities. Lara Alqasem’s week-long detention at Ben Gurion Airport is an example of Israel’s discrimination against Arab Americans and illustrates that study in Israel is not equally accessible to US students and is undertaken at some risk for many.

Furthermore, Israeli government officials have demanded that Lara Alqasem denounce BDS as a condition for possible entry into Israel. This type of ideological coercion is a scandalous example of Israel’s efforts to extort from Palestinians in detention statements aimed at undermining Palestinian national interests. If one did not support the academic boycott of Israel before the detention of Lara Alqasem, Israel’s treatment of this American Palestinian student provides ample reason to embrace BDS.

USACBI encourages students and professors to make a commitment to Palestinian human rights and boycott study abroad programs in Israel.”

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

15 Responses

  1. echinococcus on October 11, 2018, 1:24 pm

    Interesting to note that the same objections to this picket-line crossing, boycott breaking lady were censored by Mondo Weiss when offered in comment.

  2. Citizen on October 11, 2018, 5:48 pm

    Second Major Jewish Charity Admits Funding Group Tied To Canary Mission via @jdforward

  3. DaBakr on October 12, 2018, 12:28 am

    I would submit that most persons who are neither rabidly anti Israel nor pro zionist but are aware of the unique situation that bds calls for are not surprised not particularly upset at the dilemma the young woman placed herself in. She is free to leave at any time and she is not detained. If she wins her fight to stay and study in Jerusalem then that is the way the cookie crumbles. She has options open to her which would make her stay in israel more likely. if she is allowed to stay, welcome and best of luck.

    • Misterioso on October 12, 2018, 10:37 am


      While certainly not surprising, how terribly ironic that the so-called “Jewish State” emulates Germany’s Third Reich.

      One recent example:

      “Big Brother at Right Wing’s Service”

      “Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens have known for years that every digital move they made could haunt them, even if it’s supposedly protected under freedom of expression.”

      Haaretz Editorial. Oct 12/18

      “Thursday’s court hearing on the appeal of Lara Alqasem, the young American imprisoned in a Ben-Gurion Airport facility over the past 10 days for allegedly supporting BDS, even while she holds a student visa, touched on a fundamental issue that threatens every man and woman who voice their opinion on political issues.

      “The hearing exposed the extent to which states monitor simple acts on the social networks and the frightening fact that they could be used against users in formal procedures. Every social network user’s digital finger prints – every ‘like’ or click to show attendance at an event, even if done in haste, long ago or with no intention of expressing support – is used by enforcement authorities worldwide to determine people’s fates.

      “For example, the state claimed yesterday that its main evidence for Alqasem’s alleged support for BDS even in recent months – despite her insistence that she stopped being a member of the organization, which she belonged to while studying for her bachelor’s degree – is that she confirmed on Facebook that she would attend certain events.

      “As though the idea that basic Facebook activity that people sometimes carry out offhandedly could serve as evidence against them isn’t scary enough, this alleged ‘evidence’ wasn’t even submitted in Alqasem’s case. The reason for this, according to the state, is that they had been deleted (a strange argument in the era of screenshots.)

      “This is one of several assertions against Alqasem that appear in the original report of the Ministry for Strategic Affairs on her political activity, most of which is based on Facebook information about the campus chapter to which she used to belong.

      “Alqasem is not alone, of course. Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens have known for years that every digital move they made could haunt them even if it’s supposedly protected under freedom of expression. Now foreign left-wing activists are in the surveillance crosshairs, and similar testimony has been used against left-wing Israeli citizens.

      “This is the realization of the Big Brother vision: Ideological positions are gleaned from the web by governments, or worse: their envoys in civilian espionage organizations, who ‘snitch’ on their political rivals. Cooking up criminal cases based on internet searches must be forbidden.”

      • DaBakr on October 12, 2018, 4:26 pm


        Your analogies to the third Reich, nazis, Hitler and so on are not only asinine, ridiculous and tenuous but the vast majority of sane people, not pro zionist people, just regular sane ‘Israel neutral’ people think you and your nazi= Israel cohorts are nut jobs. I’m sure you associate with a small group that has analytically’proven’ your hot chic comparison but there is a real world that a) doesn’t give a shit and b) is actually educated and who know your hyperbole and hypothesis might incite some mediocre minded idiots but is otherwise worthless fecal matter

  4. HarryLaw on October 12, 2018, 8:17 am

    People who urge boycotting Israel beware, the long arm of the Israeli state will be after you
    Three Israeli teenagers who brought the court action, claiming their “artistic welfare” had been harmed by the no-show.
    “An Israeli court has ordered two New Zealand women to pay damages after they wrote a letter urging the pop star Lorde to cancel a show in Tel Aviv as part of a cultural boycott.
    Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab have been told to pay NZ$18,000 (£8,860) after penning the open letter which the Grammy Award winning singer later appeared to suggest influenced her decision to pull the June performance.
    The money will go to three Israeli teenagers who brought the court action, claiming their “artistic welfare” had been harmed by the no-show.
    “Our advice from New Zealand legal experts has been clear: Israel has no right to police the political opinions of people across the world,” the statement read. “We’ve contacted the relevant people in our government in the hope they can make it clear that New Zealand will not stand by and allow Israel to attempt to bully its citizens.”

  5. Ossinev on October 12, 2018, 10:11 am

    “People who urge boycotting Israel beware, the long arm of the Israeli state will be after you”

    Interesting that the “law suit” LOL has targeted only two New Zealand women. Fairly sure that there lots more New Zealand men and women calling on Lorde to cancel the gig. Perhaps they were the only ones who wrote an “open letter” which presumably gave their names and a starting clue for the wannabe Moriarties in Mossad feeding tit bits to Herr Erdan.

    On a positive note the ” court ” didn`t sentence them to life imprisonment for incitement to cultural terrorism. And I expect the culturally traumatised Zio teenagers were paid handsomely by Erdan for their freak show “court” appearance and have fully recovered from their post concert cancellation stress disorder.

    Interesting also that the long arm hasn`t as yet attempted to snag Roger Waters.
    Erdan on the side of caution ?

  6. Elizabeth Block on October 12, 2018, 10:42 am

    I suppose Lara Alqasem could issue the demanded retraction, knowing that no one with any sense would believe her. It’s like the statements extorted from prisoners of war.
    And when Israeli soldiers, and Jewish settlers, stop attacking children and teachers on their way to school, then Zionists can start complaining about the evils of an academic boycott.

  7. Ossinev on October 12, 2018, 1:19 pm

    “You’re assuming that this Israeli court decision can be enforced in New Zealand. I doubt it.”

    Didn`t you know Ziolaw applies everwhere in the universe from Antartica to the International Space Station.

    • Penfold on October 13, 2018, 11:42 pm

      In my best Kiwi accent “Yeah… nah”.
      This is a pretty standard case of shooting ones self in the foot, the ruling is not enforceable, it has drawn people’s attention to the region which will never work out in Israel’s favour and best of all the two are using the media attention to raise money for Gaza.

  8. punterweger on October 14, 2018, 10:17 am

    As far as I can see from news articles, Lara Alqasem has not personally explained her positions on BDS, and has failed to contradict statements by her relatives and Israeli lawyer that are designed to minimize her role in BDS activities. If she was engaged in such activities, her attempt to study at Hebrew university, which would violate the academic boycott guidelines, either testifies to ignorance, or confusion, or, even worse, shows a change of heart with respect to the cause she earlier supported. In any case, as matters stand, supporters of justice for Palestine should not regard her as some sort of heroic victim of a repressive Israeli regime. That regime daily commits much greater crimes against the Palestinian people, which hardly agitate the liberal Zionists who are rushing to Lara Alqasem’s defense. Their real, but unattainable, objective is to arrest the decline of Israel to international pariah status by vain attempts to alert its right wing government to this danger, and to show the world that there still are Zionists devoted to liberal values.

    • MHughes976 on October 14, 2018, 12:18 pm

      Unpleasant and petty rather than atrocious, I agree. The atrocities are elsewhere. I can’t quite understand why someone not boycotting should be treated as a BDS activist.

  9. gamal on October 14, 2018, 12:46 pm

    “I can’t quite understand why someone not boycotting ”

    and was it not a whig who during the debate of the Penal Code in Ireland said “I take it from this legislation that there is no such person as an Irish Catholic”, plenty of Protestant landowners around me, but they don’t insult the Irish Catholic or steal their lands and lives anymore, you can understand if you try, the Protestants became Irish, to everyones’ great benefit, and now Ireland owns all the land (it’s about land)

Leave a Reply