This recent article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published in INN, and republished here with the author’s consent…
The Lara Alqasem Case: A Defeat for Democracy
Dealing with Lara Alqasem’s arrival in Israel should have been a minor issue. Despite her valid student visa, the Israeli government authorities were entitled to decide whether Alqasem should be allowed entry to Israel. The Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the government has caused the debate on her arrival to become an important case study.
Lara Alqasem is an American citizen, granddaughter of Palestinians. She enrolled as an MA student in Human Rights at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Alqasem served as president of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an extremist anti-Israeli group, during 2016 and 2017 while she was a student at the University of Florida. She was involved in boycotting Israeli products as well as other anti-Israeli activities.1
It has also become known that her father supports BDS and has posted antisemitic content on social media.2 One wonders why Lara Alqasem chose not to apply to study abroad in one of the approximately 190 countries she has not incited against.
Foreign individuals cannot just enter any state. A sovereign country’s government reserves the right to decide who to allow in. Countries involved in ongoing conflicts must be more careful than others. During periods of the Cold War, the U.S. was selective about allowing Soviet citizens entry – and some communists as well. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot even be defined as “cold.” Therefore decisions about the entry of foreigners is all the more critical.
Upon Alqasem’s arrival at Ben Gurion Airport she was temporarily detained. Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information, Gilad Erdan proposed that she could enter Israel if she unequivocally renounced her support for BDS.3 That was a generous offer. It would not have been unreasonable to demand that she undertake some positive action on behalf of Israel to counteract her past efforts to cause damage.
Alqasem filed a request to enter the country with an Israeli court. This was rejected. She appealed the decision.4 The Tel Aviv District Court upheld the ban and said it could not justify intervening in the case and that the government’s decision to detain her was reasonable.5 The court’s judgment reflected the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches.
Alqasem then appealed further to the Supreme Court. This resulted in an injunction preventing the state from deporting her until it ruled on her petition challenging the decision to refuse her entry.6 The Supreme Court overturned the judgment and decided that preventing the appellant’s entry deviates from the bounds of reasonability.”
The Supreme Court effectively stated that it is competent to make the ultimate decision about which foreigners can enter the country. In 1994, I interviewed then State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, a retired Supreme Court judge. She said: “In each generation, the High Court has… to determine the borders of its intervention. A major consideration here has to be that public trust in it will not be harmed.”7
It was Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006 who claimed that “everything was justiciable.”8 That attitude made it easier for the Court to overstep the boundaries between the separate powers. His successors followed this approach. In 2017, the Rule of Law index by Prof. Arie Ratner of Haifa University found that only 49% of Jewish Israeli citizens have confidence in the Supreme Court. In 2000, that rate stood at 80%.9
The judgment of the Supreme Court in the Alqasem case led to strong reactions from Israeli ministers. Minister Erdan said: “Once again, the Supreme Court castrates the substance of Knesset legislation and the intention of the legislator and takes authorities which are in the hands of the executive authority.” He claimed that the court underestimated the extreme and antisemitic nature of the organization in which Alqasem had a senior role.10
Erdan added “The court minimized the extremist and antisemitic nature of SJP, the organization of which Alqasem served as president. Furthermore the justices essentially ignored the fact that she erased her social-media networks to hide her activities before arriving in Israel.” He continued: “And while the court recognized that ‘The state is entitled, in fact obliged, to defend itself. It may take steps against the boycott organizations and their activists. Protecting democracy is a fundamental part of what is democracy,’ their ruling opens the door for BDS activists to enter the country simply by enrolling in an academic program and declaring that they do not support boycotts at the present moment.”11
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri stated, “It [the Supreme Court] ignored that she erased and hid her activity on social media before coming to Israel and opened a hatch for all boycott activists worldwide to enter Israel and plead they ‘currently’ do not support a boycott.”12
The President of the Supreme Court, Esther Hayut reacted by saying that “Public officials, including elected representatives, are failing to defend Israel’s judicial system in the face of criticism of the courts that borders on incitement.”13
There are no polls on this issue which can tell whether the interference of the Supreme Court concerning Alqasem will increase or decrease the Israeli Jewish public’s shockingly low trust in the court. Increasing this percentage from 49% is important for democracy and should be a subject of the Court’s concern. It might also be worthwhile for the President of the Supreme Court to prepare plaques for her colleagues with the words of Judge Ben-Porat about the wisdom of judges.
Finally, I have been following the foreign calls to boycott Israeli academics since their beginning in 2002. The infrastructure for this was laid in Durban, South Africa during the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism. A huge number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) met there in an adjacent forum that turned into an Israel-hate event. Comparing the current academic boycott situation to that described in my 2007 book, Academics against Israel and the Jews, one can see the major development that has since taken place.14
Israeli authorities have neglected this issue for far too many years. The country’s universities lack of action was even worse. Only in recent years has the government started to address BDS campaigns which primarily aim to demonize Israel. It is in the interest of the country’s democracy not to hamper that belated effort.
7 Manfred Gerstenfeld Israel’s New Future (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1994) p. 145.