Israeli court upholds ban on entry by U.S. student

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court

It was the first time that Lara Alqasem has appeared in public since she was stopped at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport on October 2. The judge gave no indication which way he would lean or when he would make his decision. Alqasem now faces deportation, but will not be required to leave before Sunday and may choose to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Alqasem was accepted into a graduate program at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which has called for her to be let in, and was issued a student's visa by the Israeli Consulate in Miami.

Alqasem, whose father is Palestinian, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

J Street, a United States advocacy group working to promote a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, published an open letter to Minister Gilad Erdan saying the action taken against Alqasem showed the "deeply counterproductive and anti-democratic nature" of the Israeli government's approach to BDS and to criticism of its policies. But it has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem's case.

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On Tuesday, Erdan told Israel's Army Radio-in an appeal to his right-wing support base-that he would reconsider his decision if Alqasem denounced the boycott of Israel: "If Alqasem comes forward tomorrow morning with her own voice, not with all sorts of lawyers' wisecracking and statements that could be construed this way or another-and declares that supporting BDS, she thinks today is illegitimate and she regrets what she did on this matter, we will consider our stance".

Launched by 170 Palestinian civil society groups in 2005, the BDS movement seeks to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, ensure equal rights for Palestinian citizens of the state, and allow the return of Palestinian refugees. Ben-Gurion over a week, waiting for permission to enter the Jewish state. But Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, which leads the country's efforts against BDS, is unconvinced and has demanded that she apologize and pledge not to resume her past activities. Under last year's amendment to the Entry into Israel Law, it bars entry to anyone who made a "public call for boycotting Israel" or the Israeli settlements. "We don't want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and destroy us", he said this week. Once we realized that Ms. Alqasem is involved in anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activities through the BDS movement, she was denied entry. She said she had never actively participated in boycott campaigns and promised not to promote them in the future.

Professors at University of Florida have described her as a curious and open-minded student, while Hebrew University, where she hopes to pursue a master's degree in human rights, has also backed her appeal.

A Hebrew University lawyer and two opposition lawmakers testified in her defense, saying the government's tough stance was wrong and hurting the country's image overseas.

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