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Israel detains US citizen under suspicion that she supports boycott campaign

“Israel will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”

A picture taken on March 22, 2018 shows the Information and Ministry of Tourism booths at the arrival hall in Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. (Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on March 22, 2018 shows the Information and Ministry of Tourism booths at the arrival hall in Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. (Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel has detained a U.S. citizen, Lara Alqasem, at Ben-Gurion Airport for the past week, under suspicions that she supports a campaign that calls for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel. Her detention is the longest of other similar boycott-related cases.

Alqasem is a 22-year-old American graduate student of Palestinian heritage who was traveling to Israel under a student visa to study human rights at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Authorities blocked her from entering the country last Tuesday and ordered that she be deported because of her suspected support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Alqasem appealed the deportation order, with Hebrew University joining and supporting her in her appeal. An Israeli court ordered that she stay in custody pending a final ruling. Her first appeal was rejected and the second one is expected to be heard within the week.

“Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the U.S.,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, referring to Alqasem’s role as the former president of the University of Florida’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, according to the Associated Press. “Israel will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”

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Erdan said Tuesday that he would be willing to allow Alqasem to enter the country if she would publicly denounce the BDS campaign. Alqasem stated in her appeal that she did not actively take part in the boycott campaigns and vowed that she would not advocate for them.

In a Twitter thread on Monday, Erdan claimed Alqasem was not incarcerated in Israel because “she is free to return to her home in the US anytime she wishes.”

According to Haaretz, the judge noted in his initial ruling that he did not see the need to release Alqasem from detention “until the claims against her regarding the risk and possible harm to the State of Israel are clarified.”

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The Palestinian-led BDS movement aims to raise global awareness and action about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and about discrimination against Palestinians in Israel. The right-wing Israeli government has sought to eradicate the movement, with the Knesset in March 2017 approving a travel ban on foreigners who call for the boycott of Israel.

As ThinkProgress reporter E. A. Crunden previously reported, this is not the first time Israel has detained or blacklisted individuals for their support of BDS. In January, Israel released a list of organizations that would be blacklisted for their support of the boycott movement, including the Nobel Peace Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), as well as CodePink and Jewish Voice for Peace. Many Jewish and Palestinian activists have said that the ban will prevent them from visiting family and from making pilgrimages to religious sites.

“The state of Israel will actively prevent such groups from spreading their falsehoods and odious methods from within the country,” Erdan said at the time, calling the blacklist “another step in our work to thwart anti-Israel boycott organizations.”