Israel's Supreme Court overturns deportation of US student

US student Lara Alqasem attends a hearing at Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem

Israel's supreme court on Thursday (Oct 18) overturned an entry ban imposed on a USA student over past support for a pro-Palestinian boycott campaign, leading to her release after more than two weeks of detention.

The supreme court accepted Alqasem's lawyers' argument that she had ceased her pro-boycott activity in April 2017, and noted that since then she had engaged in Holocaust studies and had been accepted to a post graduate programme at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which supported her petition.

Last week, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected Alqasem's appeal, saying it could not justify intervening in the case and that the government's decision to detain her was reasonable, echoing a similar decision previously made by an administrative appeals court.

Alqasem, whom the state claimed was a BDS activist, was held over two weeks in a detainment center at Ben-Gurion International Airport despite receiving a student visa from an Israeli consulate prior to her arrival.

Alqasem's attorneys lauded the high court's ruling as a victory for free speech and academic freedom.

When she was barred entry at Ben Gurion airport, Ms Alqasem chose to stay and overturn the decision through legal appeals.

During her hearing, the Supreme Court justices asked Alqasem's lawyer whether the student supported a boycott of Israel, Haaretz reported.

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"In this case, denying the applicant's entry does not advance the objective of the law, and it is argued, for example, by the Hebrew University that it harms Israeli academia", it said, going on to criticise the immigration authorities.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Alqasem is registered for a master's program in human rights, said they look forward to welcoming her to classes next week.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan argued that Alqasem "was President of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups in the U.S.", and accused BDS groups of engaging in "anti-Semitic and violent activity".

"I'm relieved at the court's decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my awesome and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends", she told the Haaretz newspaper upon her release.

Thursday's ruling was a blow to Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, whose ministry oversees anti-BDS efforts.

"I'm deeply disappointed", he said.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose ministry is tasked with enforcing the law, called the ruling a "disgrace". "Would she also have dared in the United States to act against the state while demanding to remain and study in it?" he wrote. "This damages the ability of the state of Israel to combat boycott activists that harm us all".

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