U.S. student held at Israel airport, accused of aiding boycott group


Israeli authorities have been detaining an American college student for almost a week because of purported ties to a pro-Palestinian organization, officials said.

Student Lara Alqasem has been held at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport since last Tuesday when security flagged her for involvement in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — an international campaign that calls for boycotts of Israel over Palestinian and human rights.

Alqasem, 22, who has Palestinian grandparents, received a student visa from the Israeli consulate in the United States so she could study abroad. She’s working toward a master’s degree in human rights at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

An appeal to the Israeli Interior Ministry was denied last week and her attorney, Yotam Ben-Hallel, has appealed to district court in Tel Aviv, hopeful the case will be heard this week. The university asked to join Alqasem’s appeal against the decision to deport her.

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A former student at the University of Florida, Alqasem was president of the Students for Justice in Palestine group, which led boycott campaigns against Israel for treatment of Palestinians.

University professors said she quit the group and started focusing on understanding both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before she went to Jerusalem. Mother Karen Alzasem said her daughter was involved in the group for one semester — and her decision to attend Hebrew University shows her willingness to acknowledge, not boycott, Israel.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, though, doubts her motivations and said she created a new platform for anti-Israeli activity. Canary Mission, a website that tracks antisemitism on college campuses, shows Alqasem joined the group in 2014 and was its president between 2016 and 2017.

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Israel prohibits foreigners from entering the country if they have called for bans on Israel or its settlements. The prohibition has affected other Americans, including journalist Peter Beinart and Ariel Gold, the director of women’s peace group Code Pink.

Officials said representatives from Hebrew University attempted to visit Alqasem but were denied at the airport detention center. One official said the school questions the evidence against her, saying it’s a violation of free speech.

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