Thursday, October 18, 2018

Israeli Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Lara Alqasem

Very good news. And, at least in terms of how the opinions were excerpted in Haaretz, they didn't pull punches either.
"Since the appellant's actions do not raise satisfactory cause to bar her to entry to Israel, the inevitable impression is that invalidating the visa given to her was due to the political opinions she holds," read the verdict. "If this is truly the case, then we are talking about an extreme and dangerous step, which could lead to the crumbling of the pillars upon which democracy in Israel stands," the verdict continued.
"The Law of Entry to Israel is intended to protect the state's sovereignty, and the public's safety and security. It does not have a component of penalty, or revenge for previous bad behavior," Justice Neal Hendel said.
"Despite the obstacles in her way the appellant insists on her right to study at the Hebrew University. This conduct is not in keeping, in an understatement, with the thesis that the she's an undercover boycott activist," he continued. 
"The Interior Ministry has openly admitted that it does not have any evidence of the appellant's engaging in boycott activity since April 2017, except for mysterious 'indications' whose essence hasn't been clarified and regarding which no evidence has been submitted," Neal noted. 
"The material submitted regarding the appellant's activity in the SJP organization shows that even at that stage the boycott activity was minor and limited in character," Neal added. "There's no doubt the SJP cell indeed supported boycotting Israel – and this position must be roundly condemned. It is also presumable that the appellant, who played a role in the cell and for three years was one of its few members, was partner to this unworthy activity. However, it is impossible to ignore the cell's sporadic and relatively minor character. In itself, it certainly was not one of the prominent boycott organizations and it is doubtful whether the appellant could be seen as filling the criteria [required in the law?] even when she had a position in it." 
Neal continued, saying that "alongside the random indications of the appellant's involvement in BDS activity during her studies, it is impossible to ignore the testimonies of her lecturers about her complex approach, the curiosity she displayed toward Israel and Judaism and her readiness to conduct an open, respectful dialogue – which is in stark contrast to the boycott idea." 
"The struggle against the BDS movement and others like it is a worthy cause. The state is permitted, not to say obliged, to protect itself from discrimination and the violent silencing of the political discourse. It may take steps against the boycott organizations and their activists. In this case, preventing the appellant's entry does not advance the law's purpose and clearly deviates from the bounds of reasonability," Neal concluded.
Justice Anat Baron said that "there was no place to deny the appellant the entry visa she had been granted, because clearly she doesn't now and hasn't for a long time engaged in boycotting Israel, not to mention engaging in 'active, continuing and substantial' work in this matter. The decision to deny the appellant's entry visa is unreasonable to the extent that it requires intervention." 
"Since the appellant's deeds do not constitute sufficient cause to ban her entry to Israel, the inevitable impression is that her visa was denied due to her political views. If this is indeed the case, then this is an extreme, dangerous step, which could lead to the crumbling of the supporting pillars on which Israeli democracy is built," Baron said.
"The appellant's very desire to be part of the academic studies in Israel is contrary to the idea of imposing a boycott on Israel, not to mention an academic boycott. This decision itself could even cause damage to Israel's image, thus attaining the opposite goal of the one intended by the legislator," Baron continued. 
"We don't know what's in anyone's heart in general and what's in the appellant's heart in particular and how she'd act in the future, and after she returns to her country. But these considerations are irrelevant to our case, because according to the law we must focus on the appellant's acts in the present – and not on her opinions, thoughts or speculations about her future," Baron concluded. 
Justice Uzi Vogelman said that "a call to boycott Israel was published by the SJP organization, of which the appellant was a member, and not by the appellant herself."
"The law was intended to ban the entry of people expected to spread the boycott doctrine during their stay in Israel…the appellant's case does not qualify for this clause, since there's no argument that she has ceased her activity in the SJP," he continued. 
"It appears that in the concrete circumstances of this case the appellant's studies in the Hebrew University will help to bolster Israeli academia's struggle against the boycott," Vogelman concluded.
Can't ask for much more than that. Threat to academic freedom? Check. Utter lack of compelling evidence against Alqasem? Check. Counterproductive against the boycott? Check. Massively disproportionate response to someone like Alqasem? Check.

Honestly, I needed some good news this week. So this was a relief.

I don't know enough about the Israeli judiciary to give any reads on the political leanings of the three judges who heard Alqasem's case. For what it's worth, Justice Hendel was born in the US, while Justices Vogelman and Baron are both sabras. Moreover, Justice Baron lost a son to a suicide bombing attack in 2003 -- she certainly needs no persuasion regarding Israel's actual security needs.

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