Israel’s High Court ended two weeks of uncertainty over the fate of an American student barred from entering the country because of past support for boycotting Israel with a ruling that she can stay.
The decision overturns lower court rulings which had ordered Lara Alqasem’s expulsion based on her record of anti-Israel activism and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan’s refusal to believe her promise not to exploit her time in Israel for the BDS movement.
Alqasem will now be allowed to pursue her graduate studies in “Human Rights & Transitional Justice” at Hebrew University in Yerushalayim.
The decision was unanimous, all three judges — Justices Uzi Vogelman, Neal Hendel and Anat Baron — found in her favor.
Alqasem’s lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel argued that upholding the state’s order to deny his client entry for a minor role in the BDS movement in which she was no longer a part was an overly broad application of the law, which is designed to keep out individuals who pose a real threat.
The judges were notably aggressive in interrogating the state lawyers about whether Alqasem’s support for BDS was current. Her lawyers pointed out the she had left the movement before coming to Israel and was granted a visa even though her political record was available in the government database.
The defense lawyers were triumphant, claiming it as a “victory for free speech, academic freedom, and for the rule of law.”
“Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give the Ministry of Interior unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted,” the lawyers said in a statement.
“Lara’s case proves that thought-policing has no place in a democracy.”
However, the court indicated that, in principle, the Interior Ministry does have the authority to deny entry to anyone who currently supports anti-Israel boycotts.
Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri denounced the decision as a “disgrace,” and said he plans to investigate “how to prevent such an event from happening again.”
“Where is our national respect?” Rabbi Deri tweeted. “Would she also dare to act against the country and demand to stay and study in it?”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) dismissed the court’s ruling as a manifestation of ideological bias:
“The Court insists on proving that the justice minister was right to claim that Zionism is dead in the court. The court again trampled on the authority of the government and intervenes at its discretion. No person who is not a Jew or an Israeli citizen has a vested right to enter Israel, and today the court created an absurd right again, those who act against the State of Israel can now enter its gates and harm it from inside, “Smotrich said.
“It is always only one-sided — against the national and Zionist interests of the state. The problem is not the court but the Knesset and the government, which allows the court to trample over them time after time and do not correct this absurdity with legislation. Someone who acts like a rag is inviting being stepped on,” he added.
Not everyone on the right agrees with Smotrich. Earlier in the week, Deputy Foreign Minister Tsipi Hotovely said that the state’s handling of the case was a mistake, and that, as the judges determined on Thursday, Alqasem is not now a BDS supporter.
Updated Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 2:24 pm comments