Fri, Oct 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Minister defends Israel’s action against US student

AP, JERUSALEM

A senior Israeli Cabinet minister on Wednesday defended the government’s handling of the case of a US graduate student held in detention at the country’s international airport for the past week over allegations that she promotes a boycott against the Jewish state.

Israeli Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said in an interview that Israel has the right to protect itself and decide who enters its borders.

He also rejected international criticism of Israel’s handling of the case and said he would not be swayed by criticism in the media.

“World media many times are against the state of Israel, and that is not something that has to tell us to change our ideology or to change our mind,” Erdan said.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old US citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday last week with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

However, she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she is an activist in the boycott movement.

She has remained in detention while appealing, although Erdan said she is not being held against her will and can leave the country at any time.

Her case was heard yesterday at a Tel Aviv court.

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.

Erdan described Students for Justice in Palestine as an extremist organization.

“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.

Israel, and Erdan in particular, have come under widespread criticism for their handling of Alqasem’s case.

Her lawyers say she is no longer involved in BDS activity, and former professors have described her as a curious and open-minded student.

On Wednesday, the New York Times published an opinion piece by columnist Bret Stephens and editor Bari Weiss critical of Israel’s handling of Alqasem’s case.

Both journalists are normally strong supporters of Israel.

More than 300 academics penned a letter in the Guardian on Wednesday calling the case “an attack on academic freedom.”

Erdan rejected the 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.

Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country.

It also has identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival. It so far has blocked 15 people from entering, according to the public security ministry.

Erdan repeated his offer to reconsider the decision against Alqasem if she apologizes and pledges not to engage in BDS activity.

“So far I didn’t get this kind of commitment,” he said.

Jared Glosser, the Israeli engagement coordinator at the University of Florida Hillel, a campus Jewish group, said he had never come into contact with Alqasem.

However, he described the university community as being very supportive of Israel and said BDS activity on campus is “rather small.”

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