Advertisement
  1. News

Israel detains Florida student, orders her to leave over pro-Palestinian activities

Lara Alqasem, 22, a University of Florida graduate, was detained at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday and ordered deported for pro-boycott activities against Israel when she was a student. She wants to study for her master's at Hebrew University, according to Holy Land Trust. [Courtesy of Cody O' Rourke Holy Land Trust]
Lara Alqasem, 22, a University of Florida graduate, was detained at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday and ordered deported for pro-boycott activities against Israel when she was a student. She wants to study for her master's at Hebrew University, according to Holy Land Trust. [Courtesy of Cody O' Rourke Holy Land Trust]
Published Oct. 4, 2018

Israel has denied entry to a University of Florida graduate, citing the student's involvement with a group that urged a boycott against the country for its policies toward Palestinians, according to reports.

Haretz and The Times of Israel said that, 22-year-old Lara Alqasem, a U.S. citizen with Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering Israel after she arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday.

Alqasem had been granted a student visa from the Consulate General of Israel in Miami to study in a master's program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Haaretz reported. The visa was valid for a year.

The Consulate General confirmed on Thursday that the visa was issued in Miami.

Lior Haiat, the consul general of Israel in Miami, told the Miami Herald in a statement: "Every country has the sovereign right to decide who is admitted to enter its borders. Once we realized that Ms. Alqasem is involved in anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activities through the BDS movement, she was denied entry. She appealed to the Israeli courts and the case is still being reviewed. We find it ironic that someone who calls on the indiscriminate boycott of Israel, as a tool to harm and destroy the State of Israel, wishes to study in the very country which they call to boycott."

Reports from Israel say Alqasem was detained, and held, at the airport by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, which manages security at Israel's borders, because she had served as president of Students for Justice in Palestine when she was a student at the University of Florida in 2016-17.

She was ordered deported to London because while at UF she "promoted a boycott of Israeli companies and worked to harm Israel through a cultural boycott," according to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, Haaretz reported. The authority said the student group was a branch of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a pro-Palestine group.

According to records, Alqasem lives in Southwest Ranches in Broward, and previously lived in Gainesville while studying at UF.

In an interview with WMNF 88.5, the student's mother, Karen Alqasem, said her daughter's lawyer was told Thursday morning that the Israeli ministry had "recommended that she should not be allowed to stay." Alqasem's lawyer is pleading her case in an attempt to convince Israel to let her stay, Karen Alqasem, who is of Welsh descent, told the station.

"I'm hoping because that's what she wants," her mother told WMNF. "She's interested in languages and her undergrad was in international studies and Arabic. So she wants to stay in the country. She's very interested in the culture and the languages. Not just Arabic but Hebrew also. She also studies Hebrew. That's what she wants to do."

Alqasem graduated cum laude in May with a B.A. in major foreign languages and Arabic literature, as well as international studies with an emphasis on the Middle East, according to a UF spokeswoman. The university declined further comment.

On Wednesday, the Entry to Israel Law Review Tribunal, an Israeli appeals court, froze Alqasem's deportation order by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority and gave the state a Thursday deadline to determine whether it would allow Alqasem to enter.

In the meantime, Alqasem's friends, former UF classmates, and a representative from the Holy Land Trust, a nonprofit organization in Bethlehem in the West Bank, decried Alqasem's treatment while she was detained at the airport.

"Despite acquiring an Israeli lawyer to advocate on her behalf and filing a petition, the Israeli airport security continued to try to get Alqasem on a flight to London rather than afford her due process," Cody O'Rourke, a communications director with Holy Land Trust, said in a document he forwarded to the Herald.

"During her detention, Alqasem has been denied food, water, and access to the bathroom," O'Rourke wrote.

Added Farah Khan, a Class of 2016 UF grad, "after she appeared in court to appeal her denial of entry and deportation, she was later denied access to her lawyers while in detention overnight."

O'Rourke also complained that Florida's representatives in the Senate and Congress have been "evasive at best and non-responsive at worst."

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Herald: "Israeli law prohibits entry of individuals involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I support Israel's right to do that, as a sovereign state. Ms. Alqasem is my constituent, and her family has reached out to my office seeking assistance. We have opened a constituent case, and are gathering information regarding this situation."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Gabriel Tillman faces charges of grand theft for the fire extinguisher, as well as petit theft and criminal mischief ($200 or less). [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    Video shows Gabriel Tillman push, punch, hip check and ultimately use a fire extinguisher to try to smash his way through a locked door.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hits in the batting cage during a meeting with minor league baseball players and officials at FunCity Turf, Sunday in Burlington, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) [CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP]
    The Democratic presidential candidate is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.
  3. Shane Sheil, 16, only wanted three things for Christmas, an Xbox 360, a skateboard and a family.  After a story about Shane ran in the St. Petersburg Times, the community responded, and two of his three wishes have already been fulfilled.  Someone donated an Xbox 360 to him, and a local skateboard shop offered to let him come in and pick out anything he wanted.  He now spends his days playing games like Need for Speed Carbon with friends, and said he hopes he can go get the skateboard up soon.  (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    The generosity of more than 100 people Shane Sheil, a 16-year-old in Pinellas County’s foster care system, never met changed his life.
  4. Shane Sheil, 16, rides his bike to and from school every day.  He prides himself on his speed as well as being self-sufficient.   (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    “I wish someone would actually be there for me, you know? I’m outgoing. I can bring joy. I just want to be adopted.”
  5. From the left: Christyana Richardson, 10, Terrence Simpson, 11, Sherina Akins, 33, Tharon Simpson, 12, Isaiah Shine, 11 months-old and Bronchea King, 5, near their home in North Miami. [MATIAS J. OCNER MOCNER | Miami Herald]
    Sherina Akins, a single mother of three, adopted a cousin’s two children who were about to be placed in foster care.
  6. Elias Alan-Arturo Flor, 19, of Wahneta was charged with battery and committing a lewd act in front of a child 16 or younger after turning himself into authorities. [Winter Haven Police Department]
    Elias Alan-Arturo Flor was arrested after turning himself in at the police station.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
    The suspect and the victim did not know each other prior to the shooting.
  8. Former FBI Director James Comey talks with "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace, Sunday morning, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf) [KEVIN WOLF  |  AP]
    The report did not find evidence for the most sensational of President Donald Trump’s claims, including that he had been wiretapped and illegally spied on.
  9. Trapped flower vendors are pulled out from a collapsed wall following an earthquake that struck Padada, Davao del Sur province, southern Philippines on Sunday. A strong quake jolted the southern Philippines on Sunday, causing a three-story building to collapse and prompting people to rush out of shopping malls, houses and other buildings in panic, officials said. (AP Photo/John Angelo Jomao-as) [JOHN ANGELO JOMAO-AS  |  AP]
    A child was killed when a wall of her house tumbled down as the ground shook and hit her in the head, officials said.
  10. This image made from undated video provided by Zola shows a scene of its advertisement. Under pressure from a conservative advocacy group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled the ads for wedding-planning website Zola that featured same-sex couples, including two brides kissing. The family-friendly network, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction, a spokesperson said in an interview on Saturday. (Zola via AP) [AP]
    The ad featured two brides kissing at the altar.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement