Israel is defending its treatment of a U.S. student detained at an airport on suspicion of supporting a pro-Palestinian boycott of the Jewish state.
Lara Alqasem, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been in custody for a week, although Israeli officials say she is free to go home at any time.
Cabinet minister Gilad Erdan dismissed criticism by the U.S. media and others Wednesday, saying no one can tell Israel to change its ideology.
“We are doing whatever we believe that is right for the security of the state of Israel, and that is more important than whatever The New York Times or other newspapers around the world will say about our policy,” Erdan said.
Students for Justice in Palestine
Alqasem is the former leader at the University of Florida of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, an offshoot of the larger BDS movement. BDS gets its name from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel for what it calls its poor treatment of the Palestinians.
Alqasem arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv last week. She had a student visa, intending to study human nights at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
But Israeli officials denied her entry and ordered her to turn back, saying she is an active supporter of the boycott. Israeli law does not allow boycott backers to enter the country.
Alqasem has chosen to stay in Israel and fight.
Those who have spoken to her say she is being detained at the airport in a room with bedbugs and no internet access. Her telephone privileges are also limited.
A State Department spokesman said the U.S. Embassy is providing assistance to Alqasem but, citing her privacy, gave no details.
“As a general principle, we value freedom of expression, even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views expressed,” spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday. “Our strong opposition to boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel is well-known.”