JERUSALEM—A senior Israeli Cabinet minister on Wednesday defended the government’s handling of the case of an American graduate student held in detention at the country’s international airport for the past week over allegations that she promoted a boycott against the Jewish state.
In an interview, Gilad Erdan, who oversees the government’s efforts to counter the Palestinian-led boycott movement, said that Israel has the right to protect itself and decide who enters its borders. He also rejected international criticism of Israel’s handling of the case and said he would not be swayed by criticism in the media.
“World media many times are against the state of Israel, and that is not something that has to tell us to change our ideology or to change our mind,” Erdan said.
Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last week with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she is an activist in the boycott movement.
She has remained in detention while appealing, although Erdan said she is not being held against her will and can leave the country at any time. The more than weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case. Her case is set to be heard at a Tel Aviv court Thursday.
Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, 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, whose name comes from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.
Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, described Students for Justice in Palestine as an extremist organization. “We don’t want to see their activists coming to Israel and trying to use our infrastructure to harm us and destroy us,” he said.