A US student refused entry to Israel over alleged support of a pro-Palestinian boycott movement has chosen to stay and fight the ban in court, an Israel official said on Tuesday.
Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP late on Tuesday that Lara Alqasem was being held at an immigration facility but was not under arrest.
“She can fly back to the United States whenever she likes,” Haddad said. “She decided to appeal and is being held in the facility for those refused entry,” the spokeswoman said. “She is not under arrest, she is refused entry.”
Haddad said the appeal would be heard in the Tel Aviv district court but gave no date for the hearing.
She added that judge Kobi Vardi issued a ruling on Tuesday saying that Alqasem was not obliged to remain in the airport holding facility and was free to return home and have the Tel Aviv hearing held in her absence.
In March 2017, Israel’s parliament passed a law banning the entry of supporters of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, inspired by measures against South Africa before the fall of apartheid.
Alqasem, reportedly of Palestinian descent, was stopped at Israel’s main international Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday last week and denied entry under that act.
The Jerusalem Post has reported that during her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida she was president of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which often leads boycott campaigns against Israel.
It quoted her mother, Karen Alqasem, as saying she had enrolled for a one-year master’s course in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for which she had an Israeli visa.
The university has applied to the Tel Aviv court for leave to join her appeal against deportation. “This student wants to come here and study at the Hebrew University for one year,” its president, Professor Asher Cohen, told Israeli army radio on Tuesday.
He argued her treatment was actually strengthening the BDS campaign to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“There is a difference of opinion with the state on the interpretation of the law. In our opinion in this instance the law does not apply to this student,” he said. “It is for the court to decide.”
Earlier, Israeli internal security minister Gilad Erdan said he would consider allowing Alqasem to take up her university place if she publicly denounced BDS. “If Lara Alqasem states in her own voice, not by all kinds of evasions by lawyers, that she doesn’t think now that support for BDS is something legitimate and she regrets what she has done on this subject, we shall certainly re-evaluate our petition,” he told army radio.