The entry ban of Lara Alqasem, who served as university president of Students for Justice of Palestine when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, by security at Ben-Gurion International Airport has set off a firestorm of criticism about a law passed last year by the Jewish state to ban pro-BDS activists from entering Israel.
Critics of Israel’s entry law claim that it violates the state’s democratic character and suppresses dissent.
Israel, of course, is no stranger to dissent. One need not go farther than Israel’s own Knesset to find Arab parliamentarians that do not believe in the country’s vision of a Jewish state. Outside Israel, criticism of the Middle East’s singular democracy abounds. And anti-Israel sentiment abroad takes many forms.
That Israel has not only survived and thrived amid a constant campaign of rhetoric aimed at its delegitimization is a testament to the indefatigable and entrepreneurial spirit, strong leadership, a powerful and battle-ready military, and several miracles along the way.
Many have argued that BDS has little economic impact on the State of Israel. This argument is factually correct. Israeli ingenuity and superior technology in areas of computer electronics, software, data processing, security, engineering, medicine and environmental issues like water conservation make effective boycotts of Israel nearly impossible. Businesses that seek progress and success recognize that Israel’s hard-fought and well-earned competitive advantages are simply too valuable to pass up.
Not to mention that it has been proven over and over again that those who support boycotts of Israel, like Alqasem, are likely themselves using multiple instances of Israeli technology in their day-to-day lives.
There is little doubt that letting Alqasem in would similarly have zero impact on Israel’s continued economic success in the face of calls for boycotts. Yet just because Israel succeeds in spite of the misinformation campaigns of its detractors does not mean that the nation must simply continue to take these punches lying down.
In support of the passage of the law to ban the entry of active BDS supporters, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan noted that, like every country, Israel “has the right to determine who enters its borders,” and that the ban effectively targets “those who seek to delegitimize Israel while hiding behind the language of human rights.”
While BDS activists have not succeeded in hurting Israel’s finances, the movement has had a significant impact on younger generations of American Jewry. On university campuses, Jewish students are exposed to a relentless campaign of anti-Israel sentiment, in the form of misinformation from professors and fellow students, to campus Israel Apartheid Weeks, and to baseless protests of pro-Israel student events and lectures by Israeli politicians, soldiers, academics and entrepreneurs. There is also growing anti-Semitic fervor as well.
It is the Jewish students on campus, many of whom simply don’t know enough to effectively combat the lies, who become quickly disenfranchised with supporting Israel. For those who have been sufficiently educated to support Israel, intimidation campaigns by BDS activists like Alqasem make students think twice about being vocal pro-Israel campus supporters. Many Jewish students take no stand on Israel at all, rather than face the intimidation of BDS activists.
And so if Alqasem is able to add firsthand accounts into her own anti-Israel narrative about non-existent human-rights abuses supposedly taking place against Palestinians living in areas controlled by Israel while spending time “studying in Israel,” then she can do more to disenfranchise Jewish students, which is precisely the goal of university BDS activists.
Many of the pro-Israel critics of banning Alqasem’s entry are similarly criticizing the private and anonymous funding of the Canary Mission, a watchdog organization that collects and publicizes the anti-Israel activities and public statements of students and faculty members on university campuses.
While many of the longstanding pro-Israel campus organizations have gone to tremendous lengths to provide information and support to pro-Israel students, Canary Mission is the only organization that affectively makes BDS activists think twice before engaging in anti-Israel activity.
As the American Jewish community struggles to ensure that the college campuses are safe spaces for Israel supporters, it is up to Israel to take a stand and clearly state where red lines must be drawn on anti-Israel activity.
In explaining the government’s position on BDS activism, Erdan told JNS that the Strategic Affairs ministry is “concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism on campus, especially in the guise of delegitimizing the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
He notes the recent example, “when the Art Department at the University of Michigan requires students to sit through a lecture where [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is compared to Hitler and the university says that is free speech, it shows how grave the situation facing Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus is.
“More worryingly, it shows how an entire generation of university students are having their views on Israel and the Middle East manipulated by virulently anti-Israel academics and activists who have become part of the academic mainstream by an academy that doesn’t have the courage or the will to confront them,” said Erdan.
“My ministry is dedicated to exposing the end-goal of the BDS movement: the end of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. That end-goal is not political criticism. That is anti-Semitism in its contemporary form.”
Regarding Alqasem, in particular, Erdan told JNS this week that it is “blatantly false” to call her “incarcerated” at the airport, noting that she is free to return to the United States “anytime.” He added that “Israel welcomes students of all backgrounds and political opinions to study in Israel, but, like any democracy, will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”
Erdan and the Israeli government should be applauded for defending itself and Jewish students in the United States against a pernicious anti-Israel movement with whatever legal tools are available.
Alqasem is free to say whatever she wants about the Jewish state. She has before, and she no doubt will again, this time using her detention as a badge of honor in her campaign to delegitimize Israel. And it is exactly those types of individuals who are not welcome.