South Florida

Court bans South Florida student from studying in Israel after pro-Palestinian activism

An Israeli court upheld a ban preventing a South Florida student from studying in Israel due to her pro-Palestinian activism while she was a student at the University of Florida.

The Friday decision, reported by the Times of Israel, means Lara Alqasem faces deportation if she doesn’t appeal her case to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The 22-year-old U.S. citizen, who grew up in Southwest Ranches with Palestinian grandparents, has been detained at Ben Gurion Airport since she arrived Oct. 2 with a valid one-year student visa. She was prepared to begin a master’s program in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Lior Haiat, the consul general of Israel in Miami.

Israeli officials detained her in the airport — her lawyer said she was denied access to food, water, a bathroom and legal representation — because of her role as the president of UF’s Students for Justice in Palestine group. Israel considers the student group a member of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which Haiat called “anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic).”

An Israeli law passed in 2017 allows the Interior Ministry to bar entry for supporters of the BDS movement if they are non-citizens of Israel, the Times of Israel reported. A judge reaffirmed the law on Friday, saying “any self-respecting state defends its own interests and those of its citizens, and has the right to fight against the actions of a boycott … as well as any attacks on its image,” according to the Times of Israel.

The Hebrew University condemned the decision, according to the Times of Israel.

“Alqasem decided to study and live in Israel against the principles of the boycott and even stated her opposition to BDS,” the university said. “We are convinced this decision does not help our struggle, and even harms academic efforts in Israel to draw students and researchers from overseas.”