Israeli supreme court overturns ruling barring USA student from country

B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad left next to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour at a session of the UN Security Council

Israel passed a law targeting BDS supporters a year ago, which bans any foreigner who "knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel" from entering the country, and lists 20 activist groups whose members can be denied entry.

The authorities cited Ms Alqasem's leadership of a Pro-Palestine university society in Florida, but her lawyers said she was no longer involved in any boycott movements and simply wanted to come to Israel to study.

Alqasem said in a statement that she was "relieved at the court's decision" and thankful for the support of her friends and family.

Lara Alqasem had been detained since she was denied entry on 2 October, after Israeli officials accused her of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Alqasem's attorneys lauded the high court's ruling as a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law.

Alqasem's case has touched off debate in Israel over whether democratic values have been compromised by a 2017 law that bars the entry of foreigners who publicly support boycotts over Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. Alqasem's lawyer Yotam Ben Hillel asked Justices Neal Hendel, Anat Baron and Uzi Vogelman to consider the student visa originally issued to her by the Israeli consulate in Miami.

In accepting her appeal, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a lower court that upheld the ban on her entry under a 2017 law forbidding BDS activists from entering Israel.

The court accepted Alqasem's appeal, saying her desire to study in Israel undermines the premise of her alleged support for a boycott. It has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem's case.

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Her lawyers called the government's attack on Alqasem "thought-policing" and said the state failed to present credible evidence against her.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Alqasem is registered for a master's program in human rights, said they look forward to welcoming her to classes next week.

"I'm relieved at the court's decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my unbelievable and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends", she told the Haaretz newspaper upon her release.

Thursday's ruling was a blow to Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, whose ministry oversees anti-BDS efforts.

"I deeply regret the Supreme Court's decision today, which indicates a basic lack of understanding of the nature and methods of the BDS campaign". "This damages the ability of the state of Israel to combat boycott activists that harm us all".

Ordered to return to the United States, she decided instead to stay in Israel and challenge the ban.

But Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin called the court decision "shameful" and said that with their decision, the justices "were continuing to act against Israeli democracy and the clear lawmaking of the Knesset".

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