Media Analysis

Israel detains American student at airport for five days over her political views, with little attention from U.S. press

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Israel’s detention at its international airport of Lara Alqasem, 22, an American student holding a visa to study at Hebrew University, has gone on five days today. Reports from the Israeli media are that Alqasem, whose father is Palestinian, will get a hearing of her appeal of the deportation order— “within days,” her lawyers hope.

This is plainly a battle between liberal forces inside Israel and the rightwing government. The Israeli government is denying visitors to Alqasem and is determined to deport her for pro-boycott views that Alqasem has sought to distance herself from.

The Times of Israel reports today:

The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday was set to schedule a hearing for an appeal against the deportation of a US student of Palestinian descent, who was denied entry into the country last week over her alleged support of the movement to boycott Israel.

Alqasem is raising money by crowdsource in order to fight the deportation.

Simone Zimmerman of IfNotNow updates us from the Hebrew press:

Members of Knesset Mossi Raz, Tamar Zandberg, and Issawi Frej are currently being denied entrance to the facility at Ben Gurion airport where Lara Alqasem has been detained for the last five days. Five days.

Noa Landau reports in Haaretz that the American embassy is providing Alqasem assistance, but “only Alqasem’s attorneys have been allowed to visit her thus far.”

“We are aware of the case and our Embassy is providing consular assistance,” the embassy official told Haaretz…

Also Sunday, Israel’s Interior Ministry denied the request of a group of lecturers from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University to visit the 22-year-old student at the detention facility in the airport where she is being held until a final decision on her issue will be made…

There is no update from Alqasem’s congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who affirmed Israel’s right to deport BDS supporters but also said that Alqasem’s family had reached out to her and that she is looking into the case. (I sent her office two emails; silence.)

Haaretz’s report from a hearing Thursday, at which an administrative court rejected Alqasem’s appeal of her deportation, include the following facts:

Alqasem was admitted by Hebrew Unviersity to study for a Master’s Degree, and received a one-year (“A2”) student visa from Israel’s Consulate in Miami. Alqasem’s “name was flagged in the computer as a BDS activist by the Strategic Affairs Ministry.” Alqasem had been president of a University of Florida campus chapter of “Students for Justice in Palestine” in 2016-2017.

“Alqasem told the appeals tribunal that the ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ chapter in question had only a few members (@ five),” Haaretz’s Landau reported (as tweeted by Marian Houk). “At that time, Alqasem said, she had personally supported boycotts of Israel, but she left the organization in 2017 + does not now support BDS. If she did, she told the tribunal, she wld not have come to study in Israel. She pledged to the tribunal that while in Israel she wld not call for a boycott or participate in BDS activities, directly or indirectly, and wld not visit occupied territories”.

Alqasem’s lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel, told Haaretz, “It is regrettable the Court was impressed by general + unfounded allegations regarding her activity, which was provided to him by the Ministry for Strategic Affairs.”

Zimmerman summarizes tweets today from Noa Landau in Hebrew, saying the press is going along with the government in mischaracterizing Alqasem:

Israeli mainstream media doesn’t care if Haaretz reports facts about Lara Alqasem every day this week- Gilad Erdan [minister of public security and strategic affairs] and co will keep repeating lies to smear her as some nefarious anti-Israel leader to justify kicking her out.

Unfortunately, the case has gotten little coverage in the U.S. Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares is disturbed by the news. “Despite holding a valid visa, Alqasem was detained at the airport because the Strategic Affairs Ministry flagged her as a BDS activist.”

David Rothkopf states the obvious: “BDS is a reasonable political response to what’s happening in Israel. The response to it does more damage to Israel than BDS could ever do.”

(David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression, writes to Rothkopf, “Looking fwd to reports on your experience at the border next time you visit.” “Should be fun,” Rothkopf says.)

Richard Silverstein writes:

I thought activists should fight 4 Alqasem’s right to study at Hebrew University. Now I hope Israel deports her. Then she will hv lots of material 4 her MA thesis on human rights in Israel; and it will be shown for what it is: national security state.

The Times of Israel says Israel has evidently nullified a new policy on not questioning visitors about political views.

Alqasem’s detention came less than a week after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber said the Shin Bet security service would no longer ask detainees at border crossings about their political views and that regulations to that effect would be reiterated to officials at the borders.

The statement from Zilber followed a month-long inquiry after American Jewish journalist and prominent critic of the Israeli government Peter Beinart said he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah last month.

Here’s an interview with Karen Alqasem, the student’s mother, from WMNF radio in Tampa. It makes clear that her daughter was ethnically-profiled, and that she’s interested in human rights.

“Well, currently, she’s in detention at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. She arrived there around 9:00 a.m. our time on [October] 2nd. When she went through the gate to try to enter the country they asked where her father – you know she has the [Palestinian] Alqasem name – so they asked where does that name come from, where was her father born?

“And then they made a call. And my daughter could understand a little bit of the Hebrew, so she understood when the guy said to the person on the phone, ‘She has a visa but her name is Alqasem.’ And the man on the phone said, ‘Detain her.’

“So at that point they took her into another room where they held her. They questioned her, what she was doing there. I don’t know the whole story because I’ve had limited contact with her. But they asked her a lot of questions. And they kept her in detention from that point until the next morning. Actually, they tried to deport her. They were going to deport her at 6:00 a.m. the following morning.

“But we got a petition to allow her to stay – we had to get a lawyer, we got a petition to allow her to stay. They allowed that. Then she went to a hearing yesterday [Wednesday] morning at around lunchtime. …

“The Dean of the [Hebrew] university sent a letter, also, to the court, recommending that she be allowed to stay. She’s there to be a student and do her Master’s degree [in human rights and international law].

Hen Mazzig, an Israel supporter, has said that Alqasem was an active proponent of BDS at the University of Florida, and convinced the Pride group at the school to boycott an event Mazzig was doing there last year.

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Why even bother going to israel to study anything.

“Over 100 academics and Jewish professionals signed a petition demanding that Israeli authorities release a Palestinian-American student they have been detaining for nearly a week and let her enter the country to complete a Master’s degree the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”

And also this- “Israel Is Refusing Entry To An American Student Because She Once Supported A Boycott” – Washington Post. The mainstream media is showing a little bit of attention…

D.W. Schultz needs to register as a foreign agent, along with Schumer, Cardin, Blumenthal, Wyden ,Engel, Israel, Nadler, Rosen, Schiff and Sherman. All of these fine individuals have shown a commitment to support the interests of the Israeli government over that of their own, for which they were elected to… Read more »

Her Gofundme page doesn’t load.