Israel’s High Court has ruled that US student Lara Alqasem can enter Israel after all, more than two weeks after being denied entry because she once supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The country’s top justices branded attempts to ban her for political reasons as “an extreme and dangerous step” in a democracy, in a judgement that will reverberate around the world.
Alqasem had been offered a place to study human rights at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but she has been held at Ben-Gurion Airport for more than two weeks since arriving from the US, where she was granted a visa by the Israeli consulate in Miami.
In a landmark ruling, High Court judges said authorities’ decision to invalidate her visa was likely “due to the political opinions she holds… If this is truly the case, then we are talking about an extreme and dangerous step, which could lead to the crumbling of the pillars upon which democracy in Israel stands”.
But the Court also added that if Alqasem “returns to her old ways” and promoted a boycott while she was in Israel, then her stay could be cancelled and she could be deported.
Her lawyers said the decision was “a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law,” but Gilad Erdan, minister of strategic affairs, said he “deeply regrets” the ruling.
He said it “indicates a basic lack of understanding of the nature and methods of the boycott campaign” and “has compromised the power of the state to fight back against the boycott activists that harm us”.
Alqasem’s lawyers said her activities in Students for Justice in Palestine did not meet the legal test for the boycott law and, as president, she did not actively promote a boycott. She is no longer involved in the group.
A University spokesman said: “The Hebrew University of Jerusalem looks forward to welcoming our newest student, Lara Alqasem, as she begins her MA in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at our law school next week.”
However Im Tirtzu, a right-wing nationalist group, said: “This is one of too many examples of how the High Court incessantly overrides the decisions of the democratically-elected executive branch. The Interior Minister made the decision to not allow Alqasem to enter Israel, so it should have been. BDS activists have no business in Israel.”