Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) on Tuesday said a US student of Palestinian descent, who has been held at Ben Gurion Airport for a week and faces deportation for allegedly supporting an Israel boycott, can leave Israel whenever she wants.
Erdan, whose ministry is responsible for countering the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement against Israel, known as BDS, also said that if Lara Alqasem were to renounce her past activities and publicly declare that boycott efforts are not legitimate, he would reconsider her case.
Alqasem, 22, who has Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering the country after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport last Tuesday, despite having received a student visa from the Israeli Consulate in Miami to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been held in a airport detention facility ever since.
The Population Immigration and Border Authority has said the decision to stop Alqasem at the airport was due to her “boycott activity,” while Strategic Affairs Ministry officials said she was a member of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group that calls for boycotting Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
He also criticized the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for supporting the student’s court appeal against her impending deportation, as well as left-wing Meretz party lawmakers who visited Alqasem at the airport earlier in the week.“They make a show as if Israel is imprisoning a student,” Erdan, who is also public security minister, told Army Radio on Tuesday morning. “She can go home to her country whenever she wants. This student stood at the head of a branch of an extreme organization, and it is not reasonable that she can come here and enjoy Israel’s academic benefits while she is trying to harm Israeli citizens.”
“The Hebrew University is working together with the extreme left here,” he told the radio station.
Erdan noted that his office was merely enforcing a Knesset law banning entry into the country of those who support boycotts of Israel.
“Lara Alqasem exactly answers those definitions” stipulated in the law, he maintained.
“She was the head of a branch of an extreme organization for years. If she said tomorrow in her own voice, without any sophistry of one kind or another by an attorney, that support of BDS is not legitimate in her view and that she regrets her activities on the matter, I assure you that we will consider the matter anew. But so far all we have seen is sophistry.”
“It is irrational that a person who comes here to photograph IDF soldiers at checkpoints and then present it in a deceitful and distorted way abroad, or any other thing, can enter Israeli territory,” Erdan continued. “Therefore, it is inconceivable that we won’t also counter boycott policies by offensive means.”
“The time has come that Israel, just like any normal country, should tell foreigners who are acting to harm it around the world, that their actions have a price,” the Likud minister added.
In the interview, Erdan also linked the Meretz lawmakers’ support for the American student to a terror attack earlier in the week.
“As we were burying Kim and Ziv, may they rest in peace, Meretz members arrive to visit her [Alqasem] in the detention center,” Erdan said, referring to Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, 28, and Ziv Hajbi, 35, who were killed Sunday in a Palestinian terror attack at a West Bank industrial park. Another woman was also injured in the shooting attack. The alleged gunman Ashraf Na’alowa, 23, is still at large.
On Monday, the Hebrew University asked to be included in a Tel Aviv District Court petition Alqasem filed against her deportation.
There is an incredible amount of fake news being spread regarding Israel's fight against the anti-Semitic #BDS campaign and the case of #LaraAlqasem. It's time to set the record straight. Here are the facts: 1/5
— גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) October 8, 2018
“There is an incredible amount of fake news being spread regarding Israel’s fight against the anti-Semitic BDS campaign and the case of Lara Alqasem,” he tweeted. “It’s time to set the record straight. Here are the facts: Lara Alqasem was president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups in the US — the SJP. SJP chapters have repeatedly engaged in anti-Semitic and violent activity with the goal of bullying and silencing students simply for their support of Israel.”
“Ms. Alqasem has changed her story several times since arriving in Israel. She erased her social media accounts — why?” he continued. “The accusation that she is incarcerated in Israel is patently false. She is free to return to her home in the US anytime she wishes.”
Alqasem was president of SJP during 2016-2017, when the group urged boycotts of Israeli companies and cultural ties.
In a lower Court of Appeals hearing last week, which ultimately upheld the deportation, Alqasem argued that there were only five members in the branch and therefore she cannot be considered a senior figure in a national organization, a status that would make her eligible for deportation according to ministry guidelines, Haaretz reported.
She also claimed that, at the time, she did not personally support boycotts and told the court that while in Israel, she will not call for boycotting the country.
By appealing to the Tel Aviv District Court, Alqasem has further delayed her deportation until the end of proceedings.