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Academics demand Israel release US student detained inside airport

Lara Alqasem was stopped by immigration officers last week and questioned about her political activities and ethnic heritage

HUNDREDS of professors and Jewish professionals worldwide have signed a petition demanding that Israel release a US student held at its international airport for the last seven days.

Lara Alqasem, who has Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion airport on October 2 with a valid student visa.

The 22-year-old was due to begin studying for a master’s degree at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, but on arrival was stopped by immigration officers and questioned about her political activities and ethnic heritage.

She was then barred from entering the country and ordered  to be deported, based on suspicions she supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country.

“As academics from multiple disciplines at universities across the United States and across the globe, we are dismayed at the decision of the Ministry of Interior to deny entry to American citizen Lara Alqasem,” the petition reads.

“Denying entry to foreign students based on political beliefs or ethnic heritage is an attack on academic freedom.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan floated a “compromise” today, saying in a radio interview that he would drop his efforts to expel her if she apologises and recants her support for BDS.

In an appeal against her deportation, Ms Alqasem argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.

“We're talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel.

“She's not even part of the student organisation any more.”

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