Washington, Oct 11 (IANS) Israel has detained a US graduate student for more than a week, accusing her of supporting the Palestinian-led boycott movement.
Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old of Palestinian heritage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arrived in Israel on a student visa to attend Jerusalem’s Hebrew University but never made it out of the Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, after she was found to have ties to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS, her lawyer, Leora Bechor, said.
“There was no justification to deny her (entry at the airport) when they could have made their decision at the time her student visa was to be issued,” Bechor told CNN on Wednesday.
“Someone with a visa in hand places their faith in the government’s decision, so if the government plans to revoke a visa it has already issued, it must be held accountable.”
Alqasem has been held in a detention facility at the airport since arriving in Israel on October 2. She has access to a phone but cannot receive visits except from her lawyers.
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which handles BDS cases, called Alqasem a “prominent activist” who met the criteria of being refused entry into the country.
In a statement to CNN, Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said: “Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel’s destruction.”
The Ministry added that Alqasem was free to return to the US anytime.
A US Embassy official told CNN on Wednesday: “We are following the case and have provided consular services to Alqasem.”
At the US State Department briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “It’s ultimately up to the government of Israel, or any country for that matter, to decide which individuals, which Americans, it wants to let in.”
Hebrew University’s academic senate condemned Alqasem’s detention and called for her immediate release.