Published: Thu, October 11, 2018

Israel Defends Treatment of Detained US Student

Israel Defends Treatment of Detained US Student

Lara Alqasem, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been in custody for a week, although Israeli officials say she is free to go home at any time.

The 22-year-old American, whose father is Palestinian, arrived in Israel with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

Dror Abend-David added that she was "someone who very much wanted to study worldwide relations in Israel to develop her own opinion on the conflict".

An American student being held in Israel on subversion charges appeared in court Thursday asking to be allowed into the country after spending a week at the airport in Tel Aviv. It's come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem's case.

The university has applied to the Tel Aviv court for leave to join her appeal against deportation.

Alqasem, reportedly of Palestinian descent, was stopped at Israel's main worldwide Ben Gurion airport last Tuesday and denied entry under that act.

Alqasem is the former leader at the University of Florida of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, an offshoot of the larger BDS movement.

Her lawyers said in court she had not been involved with SJP for more than a year and a half. "So far I didn't get this kind of commitment", he said.

"I think we have a good case".

In an interview, Gilad Erdan, who oversees the government's efforts to counter the Palestinian-led boycott movement, said that Israel has the right to protect itself and decide who enters its borders. "In our opinion in this instance the law does not apply to this student", he said. It also identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival. "We have clear criteria", he said.

The grassroots boycott campaign, known as BDS, has targeted Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities in what it says is nonviolent resistance to unjust and racist Israeli policies.

Erdan, Israel's minister for strategic affairs, described Students for Justice in Palestine as an extremist organization.

"We're talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything", said her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel.

Former professors have described her as a curious and open-minded student.

The Hebrew University has called on the authorities to allow her in to study and has supported her appeal.

A pair of dovish Israeli lawmakers also attending Thursday's hearing to protest Alqasem's lengthy detention.

The United States said Wednesday that it supports freedom of expression and was in touch with Alqasem.

"As a general principle, we value freedom of expression even in cases where we don't agree with the political views expressed and this is such a case", US State Department deputy spokesman, Robert Palladino, told reporters on Wednesday.

In March 2017, Israel's Parliament passed a law banning the entry of supporters of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), a movement inspired by measures against South Africa before the fall of apartheid.

Israel enacted a law past year banning entry for any foreigner who "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel".

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