US backs 'freedom of expression' after Israel holds American 'BDS supporter'

from by Agencies and TOI staff

Jerusalem says student Lara Alqasem, barred from entry and kept at airport for a week, is a boycott Israel backer; she says she never actively campaigned against Israel.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student, arrives to the courtroom at the Tel Aviv District court on October 11, 2018. The American graduate student has been held at Israel's international airport since last week, barred from entering because of allegations that she promotes a boycott against the Jewish state. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The United States said Wednesday that it supports freedom of expression and was in touch with a Florida student who has been refused entry into Israel over her alleged support for a pro-Palestinian boycott campaign.

The student, 22-year-old Lara Alqasem, appeared in Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday in her legal battle to be allowed to enter Israel for a year-long study program.

The State Department said that the US Embassy in Jerusalem was offering consular assistance to Alqasem, who has chosen to challenge her Israel entry ban and has been held at the airport for a week. Israeli authorities said Thursday she is being held at an immigration facility but is not under arrest.

“As a general principle, we value freedom of expression even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views expressed and this is such a case,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.

“Our strong opposition to the boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel is well-known,” he said.

But he added: “Israel is a sovereign nation that can determine who enters.”

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 11, 2018. The student was refused entry for alleged support of a pro-Palestinian boycott-Israel group and has chosen to stay and fight the ban in court. Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Lara was being held at an immigration facility but was not under arrest. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The comments appeared to be stronger than the previous US position on the case; State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the government was aware of the matter, but “ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country.”

Alqasem, a 22-year-old US citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben Gurion airport last Tuesday with a valid student visa to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions she is a boycott supporter.


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