Israel defends detention of US student who allegedly promoted boycott

Elias Hubbard
October 11, 2018

A senior Israeli cabinet minister on Wednesday defended the government's handling of the case of an American graduate student held in detention at the country's worldwide airport for the past week over allegations that she promotes a boycott against the Jewish state.

Alqasem is now held in a detention facility in Ben Gurion Airport.

It was the first time that Lara Alqasem has appeared in public since she was stopped at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport on October 2.

Jerusalem's Hebrew University has thrown its support behind Alqasem, announcing Monday it would join her appeal.

A senior Israeli cabinet minister on Wednesday defended the government's handling of the case of an American graduate student held in detention at the country's global airport for the past week over allegations that she promotes a boycott against the Jewish state.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), whose ministry is responsible for countering the BDS movement, has described Students for Justice in Palestine as an extremist organization.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the government is aware of the case, but "ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country".

American Lara Alqasem, center, sits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. "Our strong opposition to boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel is well-known". But Israel says its true goal is to delegitimize and even destroy the country.

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

"If Lara Alqasem states in her own voice, not by all kinds of evasions by lawyers, that she doesn't think now that support for BDS is something legitimate and she regrets what she has done on this subject, we shall certainly reevaluate our petition", he told army radio.

The group has supported boycott campaigns against Israel. More than 300 academics penned a letter in the British Guardian Wednesday calling the case "an attack on academic freedom".

Erdan rejected the criticism. "We are doing whatever we believe that is right for the security of the state of Israel and that is more important than whatever the New York Times or other newspapers around the world will say about our policy", Erdan said.

While waiting for her appeal to be heard, Alqasem has been spending her days in a closed area with little access to a telephone, no internet and a bed that was infested with bedbugs, according to people who have spoken to her.

The largest Jewish movement in American has called for the release of the American student with Palestinian grandparents who has been detained at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport for the past week. The Association for Israel Studies along with Jewish groups in the United States have come to her defense.

The Florida native had been accepted into a graduate program at Jerusalem's Hebrew University and was issued a student's visa by the Israeli consulate in Miami.

In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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