Free Lara Alqasem, the U.S. Student Detained at Ben-Gurion Airport

Lara Alqasem must be released and the anti-boycott secret thought police eliminated

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American student who arrived in Israel last week to start a master’s degree program at Hebrew University, is entering her sixth day of detention Monday at Ben-Gurion Airport. Her “crime,” according to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, is that while studying for her bachelor’s degree in Florida, she was president of the state’s chapter of a group that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel as a way to battle the occupation.

A special ministry report about her political activities, dramatically labeled “Sensitive,” includes information from five web pages. Four are from Facebook, while the fifth and main one is from a website called Canary Mission, which conducts shameful civic surveillance of left-wing activists on American college campuses. According to the same “sensitive” information, during the time Alqasem was a member of the chapter, which had fewer than 10 members, the group promoted a boycott against an Israeli brand of hummus, supported an authors’ petition against the Israeli funding of a cultural center and called on an international security company to stop its activities in Israel.

It’s hard to believe that these kinds of ridiculous reasons are being used by a government ministry, headed by the anti-boycott minister Gilad Erdan, to justify her deportation and lengthy detention. In her testimony to the appeals tribunal (which rejected her request to stay) she said, “I don’t support BDS. If I supported it, I wouldn’t be able to come to Israel as a student.” Alqasem further declared that during her stay in Israel she would not call for a boycott or participate in BDS activities. Nevertheless, she remains in custody and is slated for expulsion, pending another appeal she submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court.

But Alqasem shouldn’t have to commit to anything. Boycotts are a legitimate tool for expressing political protest in a democratic country, whether we’re talking about that country’s citizens or foreigners who received visas to enter. Hebrew University, which is supporting Alqasem, and the Meretz MKs who were blocked from visiting her, are worthy of praise.

The amendment to the Law of Entry to Israel, sponsored by MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), which blocks entry to those who support boycotts of Israel or the settlements, was born in sin and should be repealed. There is no consolation in the criterion that limits refusal of entry to “central activists.” Alqasem, who in any case was not a “central activist,” 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.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.