After her legal challenge to end her detention was rejected by an Israeli district court on Friday, academics and activists pledged their support on Friday for Lara Alqasem, the 22-year-old U.S. graduate student who has been held for 10 days by Israel over accusations she has supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that demands rights and freedom for Palestinians.
Alqasem was disappointed in the court’s ruling, her attorney, Yotam Ben Hillel, told Haaretz, and was “reading the verdict and considering her next steps.” She may ask the Israeli Supreme Court to hear her appeal before her scheduled deportation on Sunday.
“The court’s decision to reject Lara Alqasem’s appeal constitutes a severe injury to the freedom of expression, to Israeli academia and to our image in the world,” Mossi Raz, a member of the Knesset who has visited Alqasem since she was detained, told Haaretz.
The student was detained on October 2 as she tried to enter the country with a student visa she’d obtained at the Israeli consulate in Florida, planning to begin studying law at Hebrew University. The Strategic Affairs Ministry has argued that she must be deported under a 2017 law barring the entry of foreigners who have publicly supported the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which opposes the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies.
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Alqasem was the president of the University of Florida’s small group Students for Justice in Palestine, which urged members not to buy the brand Sabra, an Israeli hummus company.
“She was a member in a small organization that at its peak numbered eight people,” Ben Hillel told Haaretz, adding that Alqasem’s case clearly demonstrates that Israel’s quest to ban anyone who has shown even minimal support for the BDS movement, has run amok. “Here is a 22-year-old. During this period, she was 19 or 20. When did she have time to be a central activist, as the criteria require for ‘consistent and long-term support’ for a boycott? This is the demon that you have created.”
“Denying entry to foreign students based on political beliefs or ethnic heritage is an attack on academic freedom,” wrote more than 300 academics from all over the world this week in a letter support calling for Alqasem’s release. “As professors who are committed to academic freedom, and as humans who reject all forms of racial profiling, we are calling on the Israeli authorities to permit Lara Alqasem to enter Israel and pursue her studies.”
One University of Florida student tweeted his support for Alqasem, arguing that no one should be punished for fighting against any country’s human rights violations.
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