Israel defended on Wednesday its handling of the case of an American graduate student held in detention at Ben Gurion airport for the past week over allegations that she supports the BDS movement.
Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American citizen with Palestinian grandparents, arrived with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University. But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she supports the Palestinian-led boycott movement.
An Israeli court has ordered that she remain in custody while she appeals, although Israel says she can leave the country. The week-long detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case. Her case is set to be heard at a Tel Aviv court Thursday.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that Israel had the right to protect itself and decide who enters its borders despite growing international criticism.
“We are doing whatever we believe that is right for the security of the state of Israel and that is more important than whatever The New York Times or other newspapers around the world will say about our policy,” Erdan said.
His remarks come after the Times published an opinion piece by columnist Bret Stephens and editor Bari Weiss critical of Israel’s handling of Alqasem’s case. More than 300 academics penned a letter in the British Guardian Wednesday calling the case “an attack on academic freedom.”
While waiting for her appeal to be heard, Alqasem has been spending her days in a closed area with little access to a telephone and a bed that was infested with bedbugs, according to people who have spoken to her.
Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group is a branch of the BDS movement, whose name comes from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Alqasem claims that she had ceased her active support for boycotting Israel, and her plan to study at Hebrew U. was part of her ongoing efforts to learn more about both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.