Yesterday, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Lara Alqasem, an American student accused of advocating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, can enter the country in order to pursue a master’s program in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Alqasem, 22, had initially been barred due to her former BDS activity at the University of Florida (registered on the blacklist Canary Mission site which Ben Gurion airport security routinely consults), yet appealed the ban, and in that process was detained at the airport for 16 days.
On the one hand this story is easy to celebrate as a win against draconian Israeli laws which constitute thought-police.
On the other hand, it is also a dangerous win for liberal-Zionists who also campaigned for her release, because in the legitimizing of her cause, they also delegitimized BDS.
Last week, Nada Elia wrote in her piece on this site titled “Lara Alqasem’s case highlights the need for the academic boycott of Israel”:
“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”.
Hebrew University rector Barak Medina’s statement to The New York Times clearly shows this duality:
“To be clear, we strongly oppose the boycott campaign against Israel, and Israel has to fight it. But to deny entry to every person who has expressed support for a boycott is counterproductive.”
In other words, Alqasem’s acceptance and even embrace by the Israeli academia, is conditioned upon the notion that she at current does not support BDS, hence legitimizing the fight against BDS, and only considering Alqasem kosher since she claims to not support it at current. Alqasem did not go as far as the Israeli Strategic Affairs and Hasbara Minister Gilad Erdan wanted her to – she did not condemn BDS altogether nor express regret for her past actions; but her court defense was based on the claim that she has not participated in boycott activities for a year and a half, where she promised not to engage in BDS in the future. Such a defense may arguably have been expedient in order to improve her chances of getting through the system, but it is a soft form of complicity in an institutional assault on BDS, and hence a soft form of complicity in an institutional assault on Palestinians in general.
The Supreme Court statement about the case also contains this duality – legitimizing the draconian persecution of BDS activists, yet criticizing the state for this particular case:
Justice Neal Hendel, one of three Supreme Court judges who heard the appeal, affirmed in the ruling that while the state has the authority to bar BDS activists from the country, the law was not applicable in Alqasem’s case.
“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,” Hendel wrote.
“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,” he added.
This is a legal whitewash of the greater policy, while criticizing the minor “error” as “unreasonable”.
Such legal whitewash has been the hallmark of the Israeli Supreme Court, as it has largely served as a means of supposedly ‘balancing’ Israel’s Apartheid policies, while never really addressing the greater overall criminal paradigm. In this case, the Supreme Court is literally congratulating and endorsing the state for its persecution of human rights activists as “fitting and vital”, yet when there is a case of an individual who seems sufficiently distanced from this supposedly criminal activity, it criticizes the state for being too harsh.
This is a game of good cop – bad cop. It is not surprising that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri calls the Supreme Court ruling a “disgrace”, nor that Erdan rejected Alqasem’s promise not to be involved in BDS in the future as insufficient. That these people, from the more openly fascist stream of Zionism, are playing the bad cop, doesn’t mean that the good cop is good. The game is dangerous precisely because it provides a semblance of balance, where there is none.
All this confirms exactly what Nada Elia was saying – it highlights the need for the academic boycott of Israel. The Hebrew University, considered the top academic institution in Israel, is not only straddling East and West Jerusalem in contravention of international law, it is also playing the double-game of supporting ‘human rights’ while endorsing the persecution of human rights activists, since their cause is Palestinian. Lara Alqasem may now be part of a course on Human Rights and Transitional Justice, but the overriding paradigm in which she does this is an antithesis to those very principles.
This story merely shows one aspect of a myriad of Israeli academic complicity in oppression of Palestinians. It shows how, as a foreign student, one can easily become a pawn in an internal Israeli-Zionist political game, where the right and left compete against each other about who is a “better Zionist”. Rather than play Israel’s game, students should heed the wise words of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI):
“USACBI encourages students and professors to make a commitment to Palestinian human rights and boycott study abroad programs in Israel.”