OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

If Lara Alqasem led a radical-right group, would the media have covered her detention?

Students for Justice in Palestine is, by any definition, a hate group, and not just a group which advocates for the Palestinians.

A Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) display at UCLA. Credit: SJP UCLA via Facebook.
A Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) display at UCLA. Credit: SJP UCLA via Facebook.
Adam Levick
Adam Levick has served as managing editor of UK Media Watch, a CAMERA affiliate, since 2010.

It’s possible to keep the following two statements in our heads at the same time about Israel’s decision to deny entry to 22-year-old American BDS activist Lara Alqasem, who was to participate in the Hebrew University program:

  1. Despite her past involvement in the extremist group SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), Alqasem doesn’t currently pose anything resembling a real threat to Israel, and authorities were wrong—both from a policy and public relations standpoint—to bar her.
  2.  If Lara Alqasaem had been in a leadership position with a right-wing extremist group, instead of a pro-Palestinian extremist group, the media wouldn’t have batted an eye, and Alqasaem wouldn’t represent a political cause among ‘human rights’ activists.

Before proceeding with the second statement, what we believe the most compelling and unobserved element of the story, it should be noted that critics of the detention of Alqasem make a valid point when they argue that Israel’s policy of barring BDS activists from entering the country has been heavy-handed at times, and should focus narrowly on real BDS leaders, or others who work to harm the country or promote violence. Alqasem, who is 22 and no longer appears to be actively involved in BDS, as she was when leading her SJP chapter at the University of Florida, does not fall into that category.

However, those who have defended the policy also seem to stand on solid ground when they argue that Israel, by barring Alqasem because of her (radical) ideology, is not acting in a manner substantively different from other democratic countries. CAMERA senior researcher Shlomi Ben Meir recently detailed, in this Twitter thread, numerous examples of democracies similarly barring individuals for ideological reasons, often due to their far-right views. And, this brings us to a central element of the story: the failure of journalists covering the row to report on SJP’s extremism, instead merely noting that they support BDS.

However, SJP is, by any definition, a hate group, and not just a group which advocates for the Palestinians.

Here are some examples of SJP’s hate and extremism:

  • SJP was founded in 2001 by Hatem Bazian, an extremist who’s engaged in antisemitic rhetoric, has endorsed an intifada in Palestine and in the US, and expressed support for jihadist attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.
  • SJP chapters have hosted anti-Semitic speakers.
  • SJP tactics include the mock-eviction notices against Jewish students (not Israeli students, but Jewish American students) posted on their dormitory doors.

Now ask yourself this: If, instead of leading SJP, Lara Alqasem had led an alt-right or far-right student group founded by an extremist, included chapters which sponsored speakers justifying violence, and was composed of members who engaged in anti-Semitism and intimidated Jewish students, would the media and “activists” have expressed the slightest concern over Israel’s refusal to let her in the country? Of course, they wouldn’t have.

The reason for the double-standard?

Much of it is influenced by the halo effect, whereby anti-Israel groups—even those with a decidedly regressive political orientation—enjoy a kind of immunity against charges of racism and extremism by virtue of it being assumed that pro-Palestinian activism is inspired by progressive impulses. However, this assumption is undermined both by research and recent events in the United Kingdom involving the Labour Party anti-Semitism crisis, where much of the open hostility towards Jews by party members has been expressed under the guise of mere anti-Zionist activism.

In the eyes of most foreign journalists and progressive activists, those affiliated with far-right, pro-violence groups are unsympathetic and, by definition, racists and extremists—accurate epithets they are far less likely to attach to those, like Lara Alqasem, affiliated with pro-Palestinian groups which express extreme, racist views and advocate for violence.

The fact is that if Alqasem had led a group aligned with the former and not the latter, and had been denied entry into Israel, she’d most likely merely be an Internal Affairs Ministry statistic, certainly not a cause célèbre.

Adam Levick has served as managing editor of UK Media Watch, a CAMERA affiliate, since 2010.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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