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Lara Alqasem’s release is a major win for liberal Zionists and a blow to BDS

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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.”

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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24 Responses

  1. echinococcus on October 19, 2018, 10:41 am

    Thank you, Ofir, for the only sane remark about this boycott-breaking scab.
    Spats between Zionism supporters aren’t our business, anyway. At least not enough to have such a hullaballoo on Mondoweiss.

  2. festus on October 19, 2018, 11:32 am

    “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..”

    Bizarro world logic.

    Israel will only allow people in who pledge not to boycott Israel. Does this not tell us a couple of things about Israel, and nothing about BDS? Those things being that Israel cannot or will not tolerate dissent and that Israel fears BDS.

    This does not “legitimize” their fight against BDS. It just further exposes Israel for the anti-democratic state that is it.

  3. dudu440 on October 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

    I agree with Festus and respectfully disagree in part with Ofir’s analysis. Its very premise, that the episode is a “blow to BDS,” shows how much some of us have been sucked into the framing promulgated by the Israeli right, which has declared its engagement in a battle “against BDS.” That has proven politically effective for them domestically in the same way as the U.S. “war on terror” has obfuscated any rational analysis of why people we bomb, kill and exploit might want to resist. Not to equate actual “terror” and BDS, a nonviolent strategy, of course, but the point is that they are both tactics deliberately misrepresented as ends in themselves when in fact they are tools that some may chose to adopt in varying ways to pursue their goals. In our case, that goal is freedom for Palestine, with democracy and equality for all who are destined to share the country. To call something a “blow to BDS,” or something else a “victory for BDS,” for that matter, it to fetishize a strategy in a way that risks losing sight of the real purpose of our struggles.

    So how to consider the Alqasem case? First, let’s be thankful that she didn’t succumb to the bait of Erdan et al to formally “renounce BDS” and her past organizing in order to get out of jail easily. Her lawyers may have tried to minimize her SJP activities, but she did not disavow them. That is at least a partial victory.

    The court’s decision was based more on the fact that by seeking to study at an Israeli university, she was demonstrably not boycotting Israel. That’s factually correct, but it also oversimplifies the whole point of boycott, as spelled out in the PACBI guidelines, with which I mostly agree. They wisely stress that the boycott is primarily “institutional,” not targeting individual academics because of their identity or even because of their political views. PACBI calls for boycotting of formal exchange programs that involve an institutional connection with Israeli universities, not at all what Alqasem is involved with.

    On the individual level, the guidelines say the boycott covers “International students enrolling in or international faculty teaching or conducting research at degree or non-degree programs at an Israeli institution, but they add an exception: “[C]onducting research at Israeli facilities such as archives does not entail official affiliation with those facilities.” Is Alqasem violating this? Perhaps, but I don’t think her situation was what PACBI primarily contemplated. And I don’t consider individual “students enrolling” should be equated with “faculty teaching,” which involves a much higher degree of affiliation. If Alqasem as an individual student decided that her scholarly goals would be best met at Hebrew University, I’m not particularly bothered. Maybe she is mistaken or naive, but at most, at most it’s an awfully small transgression.

    Reasonable supporters of the overall academic boycott may disagree about that, but either way, to bemoan this as a “blow to BDS” is shooting ourselves in the foot. Israel’s institution of thought police for entry and its obsessive battle against BDS came under a media spotlight and made its regime look petty, silly and horribly anti-democratic. Unsurprisingly, liberal Zionist politicians, the Hebrew University and others scrambled to minimize the damage, but they can’t honestly spin it as a “blow against BDS.” Instead of calling it that ourselves, we can and should endeavor to expose their hypocrisy and the ridiculous ideological entry ban as we celebrate that they tried and failed to break Alqasem.

  4. JaapBo on October 20, 2018, 4:44 am

    Maybe the verdict is a small loss for BDS, but the overall story of Lara Alqasem is a win for BDS. It shows that Israel is limiting freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.

  5. echinococcus on October 20, 2018, 12:01 pm

    the whole point of boycott, as spelled out in the PACBI guidelines, with which I mostly agree. They wisely stress that the boycott is primarily “institutional,” not targeting individual academics because of their identity or even because of their political views.

    What’s so wise there? So they are not targeting for identity when that very identity is the only thing that makes the invaders invaders. Very wise.
    Also, no difference re political opinions means not being able to make an exception for serious opponents of Zionism who are legitimately in the Zionist entity (if such a thing were possible.)

    The only point of the boycott is to make the whole Master-Race population of the Zionist entity feel isolated, shunned. Pariahs, untouchables. They and everything connected to them. Also, the only thing that will make them realize how serious it is is the boycott of any persons occupying Palestine, in addition to a total shunning of any cultural, academic, athletic, etc. exchange.

    The good thing with a boycott movement is that everyone can participate, as much or as little as one wants to. It’s not up to some alphabet soup. That is in fact what protects the boycott movement from becoming totally taken over by Zionist-lites.

    PACBI calls for boycotting of formal exchange programs that involve an institutional connection with Israeli universities, not at all what Alqasem is involved with.

    Last news, she was taking a course at Hebrew friggin’ University. So that’s not institutional, oy. And a course concerning human rights, of all things. Not that this is important. Dog-catching would have been as bad as anything. Also, this scab is breaking the boycott by going to the official Zionist-Entity part of Palestine.

  6. Joshua Laskin on October 20, 2018, 1:05 pm

    The proof will be in the pudding. If she graduates to kick-ass; I think we might then give HU some credit, for what’s actually being discussed in the classroom, regardless of official pronouncements.

  7. wondering jew on October 21, 2018, 10:55 am

    Here’s a controversial op ed by Alexander Yakobson in Haaretz claiming that ignoring Israel’s differences from other colonialisms has been detrimental to the Palestinian cause (behind a paywall, available for free on Haaretz facebook page:)

    • wondering jew on October 21, 2018, 11:06 am


      “It’s understandable why in Palestinian parlance it’s common to describe the Palestinian conflict with Zionism and Israel not as a national conflict but as an anti-colonialist struggle. Portraying the Palestinians not as a side in a national conflict but as a people fighting against colonialism holds two advantages: According to the rules of postcolonial discourse, the Palestinians are in the right by definition and are never responsible for anything. But these advantages, and the forgoing of any serious attempt to understand the nature of the other side and its motives, come at a heavy price.

      If you don’t have a good understanding of whom you’re dealing with, it will be hard to predict the other side’s behavior and responses (this applies to both sides of the conflict, of course). The Palestinians’ ongoing refusal to accept that they are confronting a people and a rival national movement, and the illusion that this confrontation can be won using methods suited to the colonialist paradigm, have been disastrous for the Palestinian people.

      The anti-colonialist struggles of the 20th century succeeded even though the colonial powers were always much stronger than those who fought them. The colonialist power ultimately gave up the fight and retreated – in most cases without a battle, and in several famous cases only after a military struggle. In any case, the fight was not perceived as vital enough to justify the investment of resources necessary to keep it going.

      The essence of a colonialist situation is that perpetuating colonial rule is a luxury of sorts and not a vital need for the colonial power. It matters much less to it than liberation from foreign rule matters to those fighting it.

      Of course, to the colonial settler, perpetuating colonial rule isn’t a luxury, but he isn’t the one who determines the fate of the struggle. At the same time, he has somewhere to return to: the colonial mother country. This is what, to their dismay, European settlers in Algeria, French citizens (though not all of French background), did when the French Republic decided, contrary to their wishes, to leave Algeria.

      At some point, the settlers may disconnect from the mother country and create a new nation – and from this moment, they have nowhere to return to, and this is no longer a colonial situation.

      In Haaretz over the weekend Ishay Rosen-Zvi asserted that “Zionism began as a colonialist movement.” At the same time he admits that this was a national movement of a persecuted people whose ties to the land have been part of their identity and culture, and that the people who came here left behind them not a colonial mother country on whose behalf and under whose auspices they were acting, but rather Czarist Russia, anti-Semitic Poland or Nazi Germany. Applying the term “colonialism” to such a situation empties this term of most of its moral and analytical significance.

      It is indeed important to understand that in the Arabs’ eyes, the Zionists’ arrival was perceived as a colonial phenomenon. Anyone who has read Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “The Iron Wall” knows that there was no lack of understanding this fact in the Zionist movement. But since when is one side’s point of view the last word in assessing the nature of a conflict? It’s a pity that the leaders of the Arab national movement in Palestine did not make an effort to understand how the Jews perceived themselves, their situation and their connection to this land.

      The declared anti-colonialist fight against Zionism before 1948, and against Israel thereafter, was based on the assumption that the founding of the Jewish national home, in the conditions of the 20th century, and the State of Israel’s continued existence, have been a luxury of sorts for the Jews – something akin to conquering a colony and retaining it. By this logic, the Jews could be made to give up their hope for a state, and later give up Israel itself, just as the governments in London and Paris were once “persuaded” to give up their overseas colonies.

      Someone who displays such a degree of blindness toward the other side’s fundamental character is likely to bring disaster on his own people. The use of anti-colonialist rhetoric against Israel reached a peak in the ‘60s, before the 1967 occupation, in parallel to the successes of the anti-colonialist movements in Asia and Africa. The Palestinian organizations, with Fatah at the forefront, developed a doctrine of a “popular war of liberation” for the liberation of Palestine. The Fatah terror attacks carried out from Syrian territory were part of the process of escalation that led to the war in June 1967.

      The “anti-colonialist” blindness in relation to Israel fostered an expectation that Israel would crumble from within. After all, this wasn’t a real people and a real nation-state, but some “invented” artificial entity. If we pressure and threaten it enough, it will collapse like a house of cards, the thinking went.

      Colonialist aspects

      Israeli rule in the territories and the settlement project certainly have colonialist aspects. The settlers do have a mother country, and it sent them to a territory under military occupation populated by people without civil rights. But there too the main essence of the situation is a national conflict between two peoples that both see the entire land on both sides of the Green Line as their homeland.

      If the occupation were fundamentally colonialist, it would have ended long ago. No country fights for a colony for 50 years – it’s just not that important. Even Israelis who want Israel to leave the West Bank know all too well that the Palestinians view Israel within the ’67 lines as part of their homeland – ruled by a colonialist entity, not by a rival national movement and another people for whom this land is also their homeland.

      But the pleasure some take in defining Israel this way comes with a cost. Those who promote anti-colonialist rhetoric against Israel as such and against Zionism from the start are helping convince Israelis that withdrawal from the territories will only result in a continuation of the “anti-colonialist” struggle to be waged mere kilometers from Ben-Gurion Airport. No people in the world would think otherwise under similar circumstances.

      When someone discusses the colonial roots of the United States, or when in the West, some Coptic activists claim that the Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt was a colonial conquest (in Egypt they don’t dare say that), this does not raise the question whether America’s critics have accepted its existence or are determined to go on fighting it, or whether the Coptic world has finally come to terms with the existence of Muslim Egypt. The situation is different when Israel is defined as an inherently colonialist entity in the context of an ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

      Defining Zionism as a national movement does not give it or the state that it founded any immunity from criticism. National movements and nation-states are capable, particularly in a situation of national conflict, of actions certainly no less brutal than those of colonial regimes. Even Arab nationalism itself has not been entirely devoid of brutality throughout its history. Someone who seeks to contribute to peace between two peoples should not adopt one side’s slogans of war and of denying the other.”

      • eljay on October 21, 2018, 12:21 pm

        || wondering jew @ October 21, 2018, 11:06 am ||

        Wow, that’s a LOT of words just to say the religion-based identity of Jewish grants to those who choose to hold it the right…
        – to a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine; and
        – to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they wold not have others do unto them.

      • gamal on October 21, 2018, 12:37 pm

        ” Portraying the Palestinians not as a side in a national conflict but as a people fighting against colonialism holds two advantages:”

        a little more of this savvy sophistication coming no doubt

        ” According to the rules of postcolonial discourse, the Palestinians are in the right by definition and are never responsible for anything”

        you don’t know anything about postcolonial discourse do you?

        ” But these advantages”,

        “advantages” you are really sick

        “and the forgoing of any serious attempt to understand the nature of the other side and its motives, come at a heavy price.”

        Don’t you recognise contentless nonsense when you write it, “rules of postcolonial discourse” are you an idiot?

        and yes of course there’s a Hudson tune about it, of course

      • annie on October 21, 2018, 1:27 pm

        It’s a pity that the leaders of the Arab national movement in Palestine did not make an effort to understand how the Jews perceived themselves, their situation and their connection to this land.

        such a pity! because it’s so logical to assume while they are being tortured, imprisoned, w/the foot on their necks for decades, a little more palestinian understanding of jewish ptv would have made it so much more palatable!!!

        the idea here, is that palestinians would have just rolled over had they known how determined their masters were, is fodder for fools.

    • annie on October 21, 2018, 1:07 pm

      claiming palestinians “don’t have a good understanding of whom you’re dealing with,” is arrogant. it’s also arrogant to suggest or imply that if palestinians recognized zionism was a national movement (which i think palestinians do recognize) that somehow they would be better off. that somehow they would accept their subjugation.

      in Alexander Yakobson we have another white savior lecturing to the untermenschen on “denying the other” when the entire structure of zionism would completely collapse if it were not built on a foundation of denying palestinians. what a load of hogwash. and so what if the colonization of palestine is different than other colonizations? it’s still colonizing — just one with layer upon layer of justification and propaganda. so what if zionism is a national movement?? like who cares when their soldiers perch on hilltops and slaughter the people below as their citizens lean into lawn chairs, cheer them on while drinking beer and munching in snacks.

      Yakobson is a research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute, among other things. they are all about educating everyone, specifically muslims, how important zionism is and this theme, like that book ‘to my palestinian neighbor’ by the settler, is all about lecturing to palestinians. maybe if he’s so interested in peace he should try practicing what he preaches.

      • gamal on October 21, 2018, 3:28 pm

        ” like that book ‘to my palestinian neighbor’ by the settler”

        Letter to my Jewish Friend by Ibrahim Souss would be an interesting comparison, from ’90.

      • annie on October 23, 2018, 2:29 pm

        i have not heard of that book gamal. have you read it?

      • gamal on October 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

        ” have you read it?”

        long time ago, it reflects the terrible position of Palestinians at that time,

        at this link

        there is a comment in Arabic which should machine translate pretty well, we’ve come along way since then.

  8. wondering jew on October 21, 2018, 5:05 pm

    I found his tone offensive. For the most part I do not conjecture regarding the Palestinian strategy whether pre 1948, pre 1967 or post 1967. I conjecture that there will be some kind of peace treaty signed some time in the next 125 years and that the conflict will subside, but remain on a low flame for a while after the signing of the peace treaty. Only when the treaty is signed can we assess from a Monday morning quarterback point of view should’ve could’ve would’ve. But even then pride regarding dignity will state that early rejection of such compromises was worthy of praise. Thus such conjectures will not be resolved even 200 years hence. I think that certain observations regarding Zionism or Israel: they are a house of cards that will crumble might in fact be false and misleading. But even regarding that there is no evidence that can convince. We shall see.

  9. Nathan on October 21, 2018, 9:32 pm

    So, if Lara al-Qasem is detained (and not allowed to enter Israel), it is about “draconian Israeli laws which constitute thought-police”. I assume that this is very, very bad. However, on the other hand, if she wins her case in the High Court (and apparently there isn’t a draconian law system or a thought police), then there is a vindication of “liberal Zionism” and a delegitimizing of BDS. I assume that this, too, is very, very bad.

    Here, then, is the summary. It’s bad if she doesn’t enter Israel, and it’s bad if she does. So, what is the recommendation of Jonathan Ofir? Does he want us to be in favor of her being detained, or should we support her fight in the High Court? Perhaps, it is the anti-Israel argument that is “draconian”. There doesn’t seem to be any hint as to what would win Jonathan’s approval.

    Anyway, I think that it’s absolutely fascinating that Lara al-Qasem won her case in the High Court. It’s quite a special story. I can’t imagine that a foreign citizen who was denied entry into any state in the world (except “draconian” Israel, of course) would be able to fight that state in its supreme court. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that a foreigner would be able to reach the highest court in the land in just eleven days (and win against that state). I guess we’ll have to concede that Israel has the nicest draconian legal system in the world.

    • Jonathan Ofir on October 22, 2018, 3:20 pm

      Nathan: “So, what is the recommendation of Jonathan Ofir?” –
      It’s written as the very ending of the piece. Look it up. This really isn’t as complicated as you are ardently trying to make it seem.

  10. Claire7 on October 22, 2018, 4:29 am

    A Palestinian returning home can never be seen as violating BDS. That is its very aim!

    • Claire7 on October 22, 2018, 4:48 am

      I would like to edit my comment to read:

      A Palestinian returning home can never be violating BDS. That is its very aim!


      • echinococcus on October 22, 2018, 3:43 pm

        Claire No.7
        Returning home? Yah, to the part of home cleansed by genocide and occupied entirely by the enemy!
        You Zionists are in real life just as in the illustrative story of the guy who murdered his parents and asked for a reduced sentence on the grounds that he was an orphan.

      • hai_bar on October 22, 2018, 11:59 pm

        This is the opposite of a “Palestinian returning Home” – this is an American student whose father is of Palestinian origin and mother of European one (this probably being one of the reasons why she is eligible to enter the Colony).

        From how I see it, she was begging the State (17 days in detention, trying to make her case Public, receiving money from the U.S for Lawyers..etc) to let her in, as a special form of “Palestinian” who’s willing to keep her/his mouth shut and normalize the whole trip to the colony.

        I hope her stay will be as pleasant as it is pleasant for the Palestinians in Gaza, Hebron and the other ghettos.

  11. bcg on October 22, 2018, 11:17 am

    And what is Lara Alqasem going to be doing in Israel? “Alqasem is slated to begin a special master’s program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law that focuses on “human rights and Western justice.” ” Judging by this piece, the Zionists have a special place of hatred in their hearts for Hebe U:

    I have this feeling that in the not too distant future Lara Alqasem will be reporting on Israeli society, and not in a way that will make Israeli society happy. Time will tell.

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