UF graduate can stay in Israel to study, the country’s Supreme Court ruled

The University of Florida graduate who was originally denied entry into Israel because of her pro-Palestinian activism can stay in the country and enroll in a graduate program at a Jerusalem university, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Lara Alqasem, 22, a U.S. citizen who was raised in Southwest Ranches in Broward County with Palestinian grandparents, had been in detention at Ben Gurion International Airport since Oct. 2, when she arrived to get her master’s degree in human rights at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was released from detention Thursday, according to news reports.

“I’m relieved at the court’s decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my amazing and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends,” Alqasem told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, following her release. “I will be happy to say more when I’ve had a chance to rest and process.”

Israel denied her entry into the county as a result of her involvement with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which supports boycotting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. At UF, she was president of Students for Justice in Palestine, which Israel considers affiliated with BDS.

While in court, Alqasem argued that she has not participated in any boycott movement in a year and a half, the Times of Israel reported. She also insisted she would not participate in future boycott activities, the newspaper said.

Alqasem’s weeks-long saga began when she was denied entry into Israel Oct. 2.

At the time, Haaretz reported that Alqsem received a student visa from the Consulate General of Israel in Miami to begin the master’s program.

In response to questions surrounding the decision, Lior Haiat, consul general of Israel in Miami, told the Miami Herald earlier this month, “Every country has the sovereign right to decide who is admitted to enter its borders.”

“Once we realized that Ms. Alqasem is involved in anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activities through the BDS movement, she was denied entry,” he said in a statement.

Israel passed a law last year that says it can ban BDS movement supporters if they are non-citizens of Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

On Oct. 11, Alqasem appeared before an Israeli judge asking to stay in the country. The next day, the court upheld the ban, with Alqasem facing deportation. On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post reported the High Court froze Alqasem’s deportation pending her appeal.

During the hearing Thursday, the court decided that Alqasem’s alleged activities with the BDS movement were outweighed by her interest in studying at Hebrew University, the Associated Press reported. The court called deportation “a radical and dangerous step,” for Israel, the AP said.

Hebrew University supported her effort to stay in the country.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law. Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give the Interior Ministry unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted,” her attorneys said in a statement printed in the Times of Israel. “Lara’s case proves that thought-policing has no place in a democracy.”