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Dershowitz on Lara Alqasem case: ‘Israel never should have detained her’

American Jewish leaders and Israel-related groups express mixed reactions over the Israeli Supreme Court’s controversial decision to allow the entry of BDS activist Lara Alqasem, with some accusing the court of overstepping its boundaries.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student, arrives to the courtroom at the Israel Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Oct. 17, 2018. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American graduate student, arrives to the courtroom at the Israel Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Oct. 17, 2018. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.

The reactions of Jewish individuals and Israel-related groups are mixed over Israel’s Supreme Court allowing entry on Thursday to 22-year-old American BDS activist Lara Alqasem after initially refusing to let her enter earlier this month.

“I strongly support the decision,” Alan Dershowitz, constitutional law scholar and professor of law, emeritus at Harvard University Law School, told JNS. “Israel never should have detained her.”

Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, told JNS said this case is a “lose-lose” situation for Israel regardless.

“Only take such a step when confident of strategic and tactical success. Even if Alqasem had been excluded, an obscure anti-Zionist would have been turned into a heroic figure,” he said. “But the failure to exclude her enhances her yet further. What a fiasco.”

Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein, on the other hand, slammed the decision.

“ZOA opposes the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision allowing Lara Alqasem, the terrorist and BDS supporting president of the terrorist affiliated SJP, to enter Israel and study at Hebrew University,” Klein told JNS. “Alqasem and her SJP chapter has held a “national day of action” supporting Rasmea Odeh—the convicted terrorist who masterminded the murder of two American Jewish college students at Hebrew University in Israel, and a key military operative of designated foreign terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”

Klein continued, “The Israeli Supreme Court’s Alqasem decision also violates the court’s own precedents which upheld Israel’s anti-BDS law as “political terrorism,” and said it is appropriate to deny benefits to and penalize those seeking to undermine the State of Israel using BDS.”

“It is appalling that the Israeli Supreme Court is permitting an SJP leader to enter Israel, to undermine the country from within,” he added.

National Council of Young Israel President Farley Weiss, who was a volunteer law clerk at the Israel Supreme Court in 1988, was also disappointed by the decision.

“The court, however, in our view mistakenly made a distinction between having a political belief in support of BDS and taking action for BDS,” he told JNS.

“Clearly, Alqasem took action for BDS at the University of Florida as the head of Students and the Supreme Court agreed with that assessment, but said since they did not know of any actions she had taken in the last 18 months,” and took into consideration her statement that “she would not take such action in Israel they decided to allow her into Israel,” added Weiss.

“The fact she deleted her social media just before arriving in Israel likely indicates that she is not being honest by claiming she did not engage in BDS activities over the past 18 months,” continued Weiss. “In our view, without Alqasem publicly repudiating her past actions and expressing clear opposition to BDS, she should not have been allowed into Israel.”

However, groups such as J Street rejoiced over the decision over Israel admitting Alqasem, who is expected to do graduate work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“This decision should be celebrated as a major victory for common sense and a testament to the importance and impact of a fully independent judiciary,” said J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. “It is a strong sign of the continued vitality of pro-democratic forces in Israel—and a rebuke to the dangerous and repressive policies of the Netanyahu government.”

“An American student who wishes to study at a prominent Israeli university should be welcomed, not excluded and falsely maligned as a security threat because of her political beliefs,” he said. “We commend Alqasem for her courage and persistence in standing up to the Israeli government’s outrageous attempts to ban and silence her.”

In the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Neal Hendel said: “Since the appellant’s actions do not raise satisfactory cause to bar her to entry to Israel, the inevitable impression is that invalidating the visa given to her was due to the political opinions she holds,” read the verdict. “If this is truly the case, then we are talking about an extreme and dangerous step, which could lead to the crumbling of the pillars upon which democracy in Israel stands.”

Law professor Eugene Kontorovich said the court overstepped its boundaries.

Whether the security benefits outweighed the bad press in excluding Alqasem from entry “is a debatable question, but it is one for the government to decide,” he told JNS.

“Whatever one thinks of the dangers to democracy from denying entry to BDS activists, the dangers are much greater from a court—with no legal basis other than its view of what is right—micromanaging and essentially taking government decisions about border control,” continued Kontorovich. “Today, the real Security Minister is Neal Hendel.”

“The Supreme Court knows no more about these diplomatic trade-offs that the ministers, and probably less, but is has basically substituted its judgement for that of the government,” said Kontorovich. “Basically, they accepted the diplomatic opinion of Hebrew University as trumping that of people’s elected representatives.”

The ruling, however, did not strike down Israel’s law banning BDS supporters from entering the country.

The U.S. State Department is aware of the ruling and is satisfied the case has been resolved, a department spokesperson told JNS.

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