Israeli politician helping UF graduate detained over pro-Palestine remarks

SOUTHWEST RANCHES, FLA. (WSVN) - A politician in Israel has reached out to help a South Florida student who was detained in the Middle Eastern country for her political affiliation.

Tamar Zandberg aims to ensure Lara Alqasem, a Southwest Ranches resident who graduated from the University of Florida, is able to stay in the country to pursue a master’s degree in human rights.

“This is a 22-year-old student [who] came to study with a student visa,” said Israeli politician Tamar Zandberg. “She’s being detained because of her political activity in the past.”

While studying at UF, back in 2015, Alqasem was president of a pro-Palestinian group that advocated for an Israeli boycott. The movement is called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS.

Alqasem arrived at Ben Gurion Airport last week to pursue her master’s in human rights at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Shortly after landing, she was detained, even though she had been given a student visa.

“This is exactly one of the most extremist BDS organizations,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security. “We don’t want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and to destroy us.”

But Zandberg said taking Alqasem into custody was wrong.

“I thought this is a great wrongdoing for my country,” she said. “We have a responsibility to show her and the rest of the world that Israel is a liberal democracy.”

Zandberg visited Alqasem in a holding area at the airport.

“She would rather stay here, even another few days in detention, and get in eventually than go back,” said Zandberg.

Meanwhile, the student’s mother, Karen Alqasem, patiently awaits the Israeli court’s decision.

“She has to stay in a room most of the time,” she said. “They get to go out, I think, twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon for a short period of time.”

A court in Tel Aviv will decide Alqasem’s appeal Thursday morning. If she loses the appeal, she may be put on a plane to London and then the United States.

“If this one doesn’t go through, there is further recourse,” said her mother. “If she wants to do it, I’m behind her, but of course, if she wants to come home, that’s great. I think she’ll be fine with wherever she ends up.”

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