JERUSALEM: A US student refused entry for alleged support of a pro-Palestinian boycott of goods from Israel has chosen to stay and fight the ban in court, an Israel official said Tuesday.
Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP late Tuesday that Lara Alqasem was being held at an immigration facility but was not under arrest.
“She can fly back to the United States whenever she likes,” Haddad said.
“She decided to appeal and is being held in the facility for those refused entry,” the spokeswoman said in Hebrew. “She is not under arrest, she is refused entry.”
Haddad said that the appeal would be heard in the Tel Aviv district court but gave no date for the hearing.
She added that judge Kobi Vardi issued a ruling on Tuesday saying that Alqasem was not obliged to remain in the airport holding facility and was free to return home and have the Tel Aviv hearing held in her absence.
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.
Alqasem, reportedly of Palestinian descent, was stopped at Israel’s main international Ben Gurion airport last Tuesday and denied entry under that act.
The Jerusalem Post has reported that during her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida “she was president of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which often leads boycott campaigns against Israel.”
It quoted her mother, Karen Alqasem, as saying that she had enrolled for a one-year master’s course in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for which she had an Israeli visa.
The university has applied to the Tel Aviv court for leave to join her appeal against deportation.
“This student wants to come here and study at the Hebrew University for one year,” its president, professor Asher Cohen, told Israeli army radio Tuesday.
He argued that her treatment was actually strengthening the BDS campaign to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“There is a difference of opinion with the state on the interpretation of the law. In our opinion in this instance the law does not apply to this student,” he said.
“It is for the court to decide.”
Earlier, Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that he would consider allowing Alqasem to take up her university place if she publicly denounces BDS.
“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.