Israeli high court backs boycott-breaking student Lara Alqasem

Palestinian American student Lara Alqasem appears in Israel’s high court in Jerusalem, 17 October 2018.

Ronen Zvulun Reuters

Israel’s high court on Thursday overturned a government decision to bar entry to Lara Alqasem, a Palestinian American student enrolled to study at Hebrew University in violation of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli institutions.

Alqasem had been in detention since 2 October, when she was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport.

Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan said the decision to invalidate Alqasem’s student visa was taken because she had been a member of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, had earlier affirmed to The Electronic Intifada in response to an inquiry about Alqasem’s case that: “Any international student, regardless of her/his identity, enrolling in a complicit Israeli university, like the Hebrew University, is violating the relevant BDS guidelines. We strongly advise against such enrollment and against any other connection to these complicit institutions.”

Fig leaf

Following the high court decision, PACBI reasserted its position on Hebrew University as “deeply complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, from building part of its campus on stolen Palestinian land to elite training of soldiers and justifying war crimes.”

“Fig-leafing of Palestinians won’t stop the growing boycott,” PACBI added, in an apparent reference to celebrations by liberal Zionist groups at the high court’s decision.

One of those groups, the US lsrael lobby organization J Street, welcomed the court’s decision to grant entry to Alqasem as proof “of the continued vitality of pro-democratic forces in Israel.”

J Street, which supports segregation in the form of the so-called two-state solution, staunchly opposes the BDS movement and rejects fundamental Palestinian rights, especially the right of Palestinian refugees to return home, solely on the racist basis that they are not Jews.

Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker from the left-wing Zionist party Meretz, which also opposes the right of Palestinian refugees to return home on the same racist grounds, welcomed the ruling as an “important victory in the struggle to keep Israel a liberal democracy, free from thought police.”

Not a BDS activist

J Street also claimed that Alqasem had been barred “because of her political beliefs” and commended her for “her courage and persistence in standing up to the Israeli government’s outrageous attempts to ban and silence her.”

Yet this is a gross mischaracterization, since Alqasem has insistently disavowed the beliefs she was accused of holding.

After a lower court upheld the decision to bar her entry, Alqasem appealed to the high court, successfully convincing the judges that she does not support a boycott of Israel or institutions like the Hebrew University that are complicit in its system of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against millions of Palestinians, as well as Israel’s regular massacres in Gaza.

“Despite the obstacles in her way the appellant insists on her right to study at the Hebrew University,” Neal Hendel, one of the justices wrote in the court’s ruling. “This conduct is not in keeping, in an understatement, with the thesis that the she’s an undercover boycott activist.”

“The interior ministry has openly admitted that it does not have any evidence of the appellant’s engaging in boycott activity since April 2017, except for mysterious ‘indications’ whose essence hasn’t been clarified and regarding which no evidence has been submitted,” Hendel added.

The ruling characterized Alqasem’s previous activism on behalf of Palestinian rights as minor and insignificant in the context of the BDS movement.

Yet the ruling affirmed that “the struggle against the BDS movement and others like it is a worthy cause.”

“The state is permitted, not to say obliged, to protect itself from discrimination and the violent silencing of the political discourse. It may take steps against the boycott organizations and their activists,” Hendel wrote. “In this case, preventing the appellant’s entry does not advance the law’s purpose and clearly deviates from the bounds of reasonability.”

Anat Baron, another of the high court justices, also concluded of Alqasem that “clearly she doesn’t now and hasn’t for a long time engaged in boycotting Israel, not to mention engaging in ‘active, continuing and substantial’ work in this matter.”

That had been the substance of the arguments delivered by Alqasem’s lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel, who, according to Haaretz, told the justices in a hearing earlier this week that his client “had explicitly stated at earlier proceedings in the case that she is not a BDS activist and would not call for an anti-Israel boycott while in Israel.”

Erdan unhappy

While liberal supporters of Israel cheered the high court’s decision as rescuing Israel’s reputation, right-wing leaders were enraged. Interior minister Aryeh Deri called the ruling a “disgrace.”

Gilad Erdan, whose strategic affairs ministry leads Israel’s global campaign to thwart and sabotage the Palestine solidarity movement, railed against the court in a series of tweets.

Erdan claimed the justices “minimized the extremist and anti-Semitic nature of [Students for Justice in Palestine], the organization of which Alqasem served as president.”

Clearly not happy with the repressive tools already at their disposal, Israeli leaders are considering even more draconian measures to stamp out opposition to the systematic oppression of Palestinians.

On Sunday, Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation is expected to discuss a new bill that would impose prison sentences of up to seven years on activists convicted of promoting a boycott of Israel.

According to Haaretz, the vaguely worded proposal would apply to anyone who works to “undermine Israel’s interests, its relations with any other country, organization or institution … or any interest they have in Israel.”




This decision has bolstered Israel's PR efforts to appear a "thriving democratic" state. From the beginning however I failed to understand why she choose to study about human rights in a racist apartheid state. I think she would have received a better education by enrolling in a Palestinian university to experience first hand the true human rights situation on the ground.


What a great comment. Right on.
Not really anything else to say. The Israeli Supreme Court just HELPED Anti BDS by ruling against the move against the student. Perhaps this was the plan? If it was, genius. If not, a massive error but worked out anyway. What a great comment.


I don't understand how Israel can turn this into propaganda about democracy. Now it's saying Arabs can't even ENTER Israel. How is THAT democratic???


Lara Alqasem defied the international call for an academic boycott of Israel. She had renounced her briefly held position in favor of the BDS campaign and enrolled in a university that plays an important part in the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people. She did everything the state of Israel demands, up to and including full collaboration with institutions complicit in war crimes.

It still wasn't enough. That's the key lesson here. She tried to break the boycott, and the Israeli government wouldn't let her. The Supreme Court's decision appears to be an acknowledgement of this event as a public relations embarrassment rather than any realization that the law in question is unjust. New laws will now be proposed which will obviate the prospect of leniency in the future. Behind its impregnable security walls, Israel sits in an iron cage, demanding to be boycotted, enforcing the call, letting no one- and thus itself- off the hook.


It is sad witnessing the treason of this woman towards her family, her ancestors, her fellow Palestinians, the principes of justice and human rights.
Definitely there is something seriously wrong with this woman's morals.


The court couldn't quite ignore the obvious: She's there; thus, she's not boycotting.

But I don't understand the criteria, for an Israeli university to not get boycotted. Be entirely free of government funding? Is that even remotely possible? Ditto for building on land originally Palestinian; ditto for supporting its students, who are active (mandatory) military. I guess a school could, on principle, choose not to exist; and that would make a statement. But, seriously, consider academic policy. The fact that HU wants this particular young woman, tells us something about HU. Whatever empowering they can do, within that country, she's whom they want to empower. Good for her, and good for HU. She's tough, and will do what needs to be done, down the road. Whatever happened to, "know your enemy"? For Palestinian-American students to boycott ('liberal') Israeli universities, would only be counterproductive, for ultimate liberation...IMHO.


"But I don't understand the criteria, for an Israeli university to not get boycotted."

Clearly, the matter can't be taken up without considering the overall situation that gave rise to the call for the academic boycott. But one criterion is for the state which established, sustains and utilises Israeli universities as policy instruments, to stop bombing Palestinian institutions of higher learning. Another is to desist from subjecting Palestinian universities to military raids and forced closures while dragging away students and faculty to prison. Israel might even consider allowing Palestinian children to attend regular classes rather than demolishing their schools with bulldozers. Spraying classrooms with skunk water and sending snipers to shoot pupils could also be suspended as a gesture of good will. Allocating equal funding for Jewish and Palestinian education would be yet another welcome action.

And with respect to how Israeli universities could shed their complicity in the crimes of occupation and apartheid, I'm afraid I must agree with you- they can't. Their involvement with the machinery of oppression is manifested on every level. Thus, the academic boycott is entirely justified and necessary in the cause of human liberation.


HU is clearly involved, "with the machinery of oppression," on the surface--realistically, they'd have to be--but we don't really know that they're involved on *every* level. We don't know what's being discussed in the classroom. Because of that; and because HU's founders wanted a bi-national state; it's possible that it may still harbor tolerance for such radical views. That's why I think, a student of Palestinian descent who wants to study there, shouldn't be bound by the general academic boycott. I'm not so much arguing against the accademic boycott in principle, as proposing an exemption, in specific circumstances--in the cause of Palestinian liberation. Where do we expect future leaders of a united Palestinian to come from? Palestinian-Americans, values intact, engaged with the Zionist state, could be our best bet.


One thing they do NOT discuss in the classroom is Palestinian rights. You can find class agendas online. Some of them literally talk about how to spin PR so as to cover up things going on in Gaza.


That's a very pertinent observation. We don't need to guess- they publish their course curriculum. And from a human rights perspective, it's not pretty.


I once saw one in which there was an explicit discussion about how to kill a civilian and make it look like it was a militant.


"we don't really know that they're involved on *every* level. We don't know what's being discussed in the classroom."

The argument that an institution, no matter its degree of complicity in war crimes, should be treated normally because it also engages in harmless, even noble activities, is a morally hollow one. After all, what swindler doesn't give to charity? What killer doesn't love his dog?

When you suggest that "HU is clearly involved, 'with the machinery of oppression', on the surface", you seem to be intimating that its active and ongoing participation in war crimes is a superficial matter counterbalanced by a larger, more discursive body of good works. Frankly, I don't know what's meant by the "surface of oppression", but there's nothing casual or intermittent about Hebrew University's role pursuant to the destruction of the Palestinian people. HU has from its inception played a prominent part in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and continues to serve the apartheid state with full commitment to the racist principles governing the Zionist movement. Granting admission to a single Palestinian-American who has renounced the BDS campaign hardly qualifies as the wind of change sweeping through academia.

But if you'd really like to sample the depth of ideological fervor characterizing H U and the other Israeli universities, you'd do well to consult the following specimen from the archives of this very publication:

Please keep in mind the chancellors and presidents of these universities lauded thousands of soldiers just returned from carrying out horrific war crimes- aimed primarily at the trapped civilians of Gaza. The act of publicly rewarding such persons with discounted fees and declarations of heartfelt thanks says more about the character and purpose of these institutions than all the hasbara you can muster.


"supports segregation in the form of the so-called two-state solution"
and that would make one-state solution advocates supportive of nationalism because, like nationalists, they don't recognize international law. Congratulations are in order - you're winning!


The only language they understand is violence. That's why you will never see an Israeli negotiator who doesn't use violence as a threat.