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Israel Told to End 'Outrageous' Detention of US Student Held for Alleged Crime of Supporting BDS

"The amendment to the Law of Entry to Israel, which blocks entry to those who support boycotts of Israel or the settlements, was born in sin and should be repealed."

Lara Alqasem, an American student who arrived in Israel last week to study at Hebrew University, has been detained for a week on charges that she supports the BDS movement. (Photo: Cody O'Rourke Holy Land Trust)

Hundreds of academics, journalists, and human rights advocates are calling for the release of Lara Alqasem, an American student who has been detained at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for a week after being accused of promoting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement led by Palestinians and supported by those who oppose the Israeli occupation, its apartheid policies, and its ongoing  violation of international laws.

Alqasem has been detained by Israeli authorities since arriving in Israel last Tuesday to study human rights at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her deportation was ordered despite the fact that she holds a student visa.

Her detention is now the longest ever in a BDS-related case, and has drawn condemnation from critics of the country that claims to embrace democratic ideals.

Jewish Voice for Peace joined the call for Alqasem's release, and urged her supporters to also demand an end to Israel's persecution of Palestinians.

Hebrew University has thrown its support behind the student, as have more than 100 academics and Jewish leaders, who signed a petition calling for her release.

"Denying entry to foreign students based on political beliefs or ethnic heritage is an attack on academic freedom," reads the petition. "As professors who are committed to academic freedom, and as humans who reject all forms of racial profiling, we are calling on the Israeli authorities to permit Lara Alqasem to enter Israel and pursue her studies."

"Alqasem shouldn't have to commit to anything. Boycotts are a legitimate tool for expressing political protest in a democratic country." —Haaretz As a student at the University of Florida, Alqasem was president of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group opposes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and supports the BDS movement, which urges opponents of Israeli policies to avoid buying Israeli goods, supporting the country's universities and businesses, and investing in Israeli companies.

The Israeli strategic affairs minister, Gilad Erdan, offered to release Alqasem if she apologizes and renounces the BDS movement. Appealing the government's decision to detain her, the student has argued that she never actively participated in a boycott and said she would not promote them in the future.

Her supporters argue that such promises are beside the point, however, calling on Israel to end its intimidation of critics and the suppression of free speech.

"Alqasem shouldn't have to commit to anything. Boycotts are a legitimate tool for expressing political protest in a democratic country, whether we're talking about that country's citizens or foreigners who received visas to enter," wrote the editorial board of Haaretz on Monday.

"The amendment to the Law of Entry to Israel, sponsored by MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), which blocks entry to those who support boycotts of Israel or the settlements, was born in sin and should be repealed," Haaretz continued. "Alqasem...should be released immediately and Erdan's secret thought police eliminated. This must be done before boycott activists have another excellent reason to call Israel a benighted country."

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