When I was a university student back in the early 2000s, I bore witness, on a weekly basis, as a number of student leaders preached an anti-Israel (and, in my opinion, anti-Semitic) gospel. There were regular protests, events designed to intimidate Jewish and pro-Israel students and calls for boycotts against the Jewish state – basically the blueprint for what became known as the BDS movement.
I was filming a movie about tensions on campus at the time. My crew and I were following a number of students from all sides of the Israel debate and, in the course of production, I learned that two non-Jewish, anti-Israel students were moving to Israel. They said they were going to study and promised they would not take part in protests.
I hired a crew in Israel to follow them and, to my surprise, learned they were actively protesting – sometimes even leading protests – against Israeli soldiers. They threw rocks at soldiers and incited the masses, filming themselves so that people would see how they stood up to the “occupation.” The one thing they didn’t do was study.
“Visiting Israel, much like anywhere else in the world, is not a right – it’s a privilege.”
Last week, American student Lara Alqasem was detained by Israeli officials upon her arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Despite having received a visa from the Israeli Consulate in Florida to study at Hebrew University, Alqasem, who formerly held positions as the president, vice-president and primary contact for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Florida (UF) – a group she joined in 2014, and for which she organized a number of boycotts against Israel and incited various members on her campus against Israeli events and activists – was denied entry into the country.
Now, her deportation case is on the way to becoming an international incident. Some media outlets have described Alqasem as an innocent student, detained by the Jewish state for no reason. Online, many activists are reasoning that she must not be anti-Israel – why would she come to study at Hebrew University if she believes in BDS? But hasbara activist Hen Mazzig spoiled the party.
On Facebook, Mazzig revealed that he was invited to speak at UF in 2017, during Alqasem’s time at the school. “The ‘Pride’ LGBTQ student group on campus agreed to sponsor the event,” he wrote. “When I arrived on campus, (I) heard that SJP and its president, Lara Alqasem, worked to boycott my event and tried to convince the Pride student group to boycott it as well. They have succeeded…. The SJP group and Lara Alqasem tried to cancel the event completely to boycott (an) Israeli speaker.”
There are thousands of international students studying at universities across Israel. They come from a variety of countries and hold different opinions about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. They freely express themselves on campus and anywhere else they visit. Their opinions are never censored. But that doesn’t mean that those who choose to incite, lie about and defame Israel should be granted access. Visiting Israel, much like anywhere else in the world, is not a right – it’s a privilege.
There is a witch hunt happening, but it’s not the one to which progressives are alluding. It is the attempt to undermine Israeli sovereignty and democracy, to force Israel to welcome individuals who by their own past actions have shown no tolerance or willingness to listen to the Israeli perspective. To claim that a few isolated cases of people being deported out of Israel indicates a clear trend of suppression of speech is simply a lie. Israel has the right not to allow BDS supporters into the country. It has a right to deport them, too.