American student fights deportation in Israeli high court

JERUSALEM (AP) — A U.S. graduate student on Wednesday asked Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn an expulsion order over her alleged involvement in the boycott movement against Israel.

Lara Alqasem, 22, has been held in detention since arriving in the country on Oct. 2 with a valid student visa.

Alqasem, whose father is Palestinian, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group is a branch of the BDS movement, named for its support of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

BDS supporters say they are using non-violent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

Last year, Israel passed a law banning entry for any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

Alqasem, a Florida native, says she is no longer active in the boycott movement. But Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, which spearheads the government’s efforts against the boycott campaign, is unconvinced and believes she remains a threat.

She turned to the high court after a lower court last week rejected her appeal to stay in the country.

Alqasem’s attorney, Leora Bechor, said Wednesday’s hearing went well, with Supreme Court justices pressing state lawyers about whether Alqasem truly met the definition of being a boycott leader.

“We’re surprised the court was so friendly to us, and very optimistic that we will receive a decision in our favor,” Bechor said.

Alqasem had been registered to pursue a master’s degree in human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University. The university has thrown its support behind Alqasem, joining her appeal on Wednesday and calling her case a serious blow to academic freedom in Israel.

It was not immediately clear when the Supreme Court would issue its verdict.

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