On Tuesday, October 2, 2018, Israeli border authorities reportedly prevented a graduate student from entering the country to complete a master’s degree, in apparent retaliation for alleged political expression.
Lara Alqasem, a United States citizen of Palestinian descent, had reportedly been granted an A2 student visa by the Israeli consulate, and was attempting to enter Israel to complete a degree in human rights and transitional justice at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was reportedly stopped at Ben Gurion Airport on the evening of October 2, questioned for more than an hour, and referred for further processing on grounds that she was suspected of activity related to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates a boycott of Israel. A recent amendment to Israeli law bars entry by proponents of the BDS movement.
According to reports, the main source of documentation of Ms. Alqasem’s alleged boycott-related activities was information, shared among Israeli officials, from the Canary Mission, a US-based organization which publishes online profiles on professors and students who engage in pro-Palestinian activism on campus. The subjects of these profiles have reportedly been the victims of internet trolling. Their profiles have been sent to current and potential employers in an effort to interrupt their careers and expose their alleged views.
On October 4, Ms. Alqasem was denied an appeal she filed with Israel’s Ministry of the Interior. In her appeal, she reportedly stated that she is “not currently a member of any pro-boycott group and would not come to study for her M.A. in Israel if she were.” Authorities have ordered her detained until at least October 7, when she may ultimately be deported. Ms. Alqasem’s lawyer has filed a second appeal to the Tel Aviv district court.
Notably, Hebrew University, where Ms. Alqasem had planned on completing her master’s degree, is among Israel’s most prominent universities, and thus a subject of the BDS movement’s academic boycott of Israel.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on a student’s travel, in apparent retaliation for the alleged, nonviolent exercise of academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with academic activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.
On October 18, 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered Ms. Alqasem released and reversed the ban on her entry, permitting her to commence her studies at Hebrew University.