Florida student asks Israeli judge to stay after being detained for pro-Palestinian views

After being detained for more than a week, a University of Florida graduate student from Broward County appeared before an Israeli judge Thursday, asking for permission to enter the country to begin her studies, according to the Associated Press.

Lara Alqasem— a 22-year-old U.S. citizen from Southwest Ranches with Palestinian grandparents — was prevented from entering Israel after she landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Oct. 2 with a valid student visa.

Israeli officials cited Alqasem’s involvement with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a campaign that calls for boycotting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, as the reason why she was barred from entering the country and ordered to be deported, the The Times of Israel reported.

On Thursday, Israel’s strategic affairs minister told Israeli media that he had rejected a letter sent to him by Alqasem’s legal team.

“The text doesn’t comply with what I said,” said Gilad Erdan, who originally said Israeli leaders would reconsider letting her into the country if she apologized and promised not to take part in BDS activities. “[The letter] didn’t say she renounces what she did in the past or that she promises not to do so in the future. It said, more or less, that during the period of her studies in Israel she won’t be involved in boycott activities.’’

Alqasem was slated to study in a master’s program in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after being granted a one-year student visa, said Lior Haiat, the consul general of Israel in Miami.

She graduated cum laude in May from UF with a bachelor’s of arts in major foreign languages and Arabic literature, as well as international studies with an emphasis on the Middle East, according to a UF spokeswoman. While at UF, she was president of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that calls for a boycott against companies that do business with Israel.

Alqasem will remain in detention at the airport until the court delivers its written verdict, which is expected in a few days, the AP reported. Israeli authorities say Alqasem has the option of leaving the country if she wishes to not be detained.

According to an Israeli law passed in 2017, the Interior Ministry can bar entry for supporters of the BDS movement if they are non-citizens of Israel, The Times of Israel reported.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Howard Cohen contributed to this report.