On October 18th, the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to allow Lara Alqasem, a young American student of Palestinian origin, to enter Israel in order to complete her year of study at the University of Jerusalem, was a triumph of reason and proved the vitality of the Israeli democracy. As Menachem Begin used to say, “There are still judges in Jerusalem”.
Lara Aqsalem had been detained for two weeks at Ben Gurion airport. Notwithstanding the study visa issued by the Israeli consulate in Miami, Israeli authorities prevented her from entering in Israel and wanted to deport her under the new law adopted to ban BDS activists from entering the country. They accused her of having been in 2017 the president of an 8-member section of the American association Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The decision taken by an Administrative Court to deport the student had been confirmed by a Court of Appeal in Tel Aviv. Lara Alqasem, who had received the support of the University of Jerusalem, had appealed to the Supreme Court to quash the judgment.
The Supreme Court judges argued that the appeal to boycott Israel published two years ago by SJP had been not been made by the student herself, but in the name of the organization, and that the young woman assured now that she did not support BDS anymore. However, the law voted by the Knesset had been made to ban BDS activists from Israel, and did not apply to Lara Alqasem’s case.
A few ministers of the Israeli government hastened to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision. Gilad Erdan, Minister of Internal Security and of Strategic Affairs, went so far as to say that it was “a big victory for BDS”.
What can we learn from this story ?
First, in spite of the attacks against the Israeli democracy and of the freedom-destroying laws voted by the actual government (about which we talked extensively during the conference we organized last April), that democracy is still alive and well and the counter-powers function properly.
Of course, a State is entitled to ban from its territory persons who might represent a threat to its security, but this is not true of opponents whose ideas appear as upsetting. A society chosing to ban its critics from its territory shows only weakness, while on the contrary, the best way to fight BDS is to debate with its supporters and to stress the richness and diversity of the Israeli society, and its democratic vitality. We have always maintained that through its actions, BDS only reinforces the hold of the Israeli right on its population. By calling for a boycott of everything from Israel, instead of limiting it to the products from the settlements, it attacks the legitimacy of the State. In spite of all the power of its army and of its economy, the Israeli population has two Achilles’ heels we must keep in mind if we want to understand the actual political gridlocks. Namely, two perfectly legitimate and understandable demands, considering the history of the Jewish people: the recognition of the legitimacy of its presence on that land and its high-priority need for security. Benjamin Netanyahu has understood it very well and has perfected the art of using and manipulating those fears in order to consolidate his power.