I live in a country in which everything is negotiable, everything is negotiated, nothing is final, and nothing is really forbidden, at least for our enemies.
Graduate student Lara Alqasem, the former president of a BDS-supporting, Israel-hating, university “Students for Justice in Palestine” chapter, was turned back at the border because there is a law that entry is forbidden to a non-citizen “if he, the organization or the body he acts on behalf of knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” If leading a chapter of SJP doesn’t fit this criterion, nothing does.
The decision of the security service to bar her was initially supported by an administrative court, and then upheld on appeal by the Tel Aviv District Court. But Israel’s Supreme Court threw out the earlier decisions and ruled that she could be admitted. The Court accepted her contention (possibly untrue) that she hadn’t engaged in boycott activity since April 2017, said that the SJP chapter she belonged to was small and unimportant, and argued that since she wanted to study in Israel, she couldn’t have really believed in boycotting Israel. And the justices wanted to avoid giving the impression that, God forbid, she was being excluded for her political opinions.
I could criticize the court opinion in detail, but I’m not going to do that. Just two points: first, even if her SJP chapter (at the University of Florida) was small, the national organization is one of the prime movers of the BDS movement in the US, having introduced countless boycott resolutions at American universities, organizing “Israel apartheid week,” and engaging in intimidation of pro-Israel students.
And second, one of the leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, is a Ph.D candidate at Tel Aviv University. So the fact that Alqasem also wants to study here proves nothing.
I assume that since two lower courts supported the decision of the security service to prevent her admission, it was reasonable from a legal standpoint. The Supreme court rarely interferes in such cases. But this time it chose to find reasons to do so. In other words, it thought the political consequences of keeping her out were worse than allowing her in. And this is what I dispute.
The Court acted (quite predictably) according to the principle – also adhered to by the government in its dealings with the terrorists of Gaza, and illegal Bedouin encampments – that nothing is worse than looking illiberal. Its decision, which was probably intended to improve Israel’s image in the world, in practice eviscerated the law that was passed to prevent subversive activity inside our borders, and will encourage more activists to try to enter the country so they can participate in demonstrations and get street cred to help promote anti-Israel activity back home.
It will not improve Israel’s image. Instead, it will be taken as proof that our attempts to protect ourselves against subversion by foreign agents are unfair. Didn’t our own Supreme Court decide that? Those who think Israel is illiberal will continue to think that; indeed their convictions will be strengthened by the publicity this incident created. The security services, second-guessed, have been made to look stupid, and will think twice before detaining anyone again, no matter how egregious their support for BDS has been.
All three of these situations are examples of Israel trading sovereignty for appearances. In a futile attempt to look good in the eyes of hostile international organizations, governments and media, Israel is diminishing its right to control its borders, its right of self-defense, and its right to enforce the law on its own land.
The UK bans people too, including some with terrorist connections, but also others like Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, blogger Pamela Geller, Canadian right-wing activist Lauren Southern, Christian musician Don Francisco, rapper and actor Chris Brown, Martha Stuart, Snoop Dogg, and our own Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin. Not too much is made of this, because the UK is a country whose sovereignty is not questioned.
One usually sensible journalist praised the decision to allow Alqasem to enter, because “it proves that the system works” and “showed just how democratic Israel really is.” But in fact it proved the opposite: that the system of laws does not work, because it is often overridden by considerations of public relations. And it has absolutely nothing to do with democracy, unless the next step is to give Lara Alqasem citizenship because her grandparents were “Palestinian.”