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Court Rules Detained American Must Be Allowed To Study In Israel

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. An American graduate student has been released from the airport in Tel Aviv after being detained for more than two weeks. We have more from NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Lara Alqasem is 22 years old and a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She landed in Israel at the beginning of the month for a master's program in human rights at an Israeli university. But authorities at the airport denied her entry under a 2017 law banning activists affiliated with the pro-Palestinian campaign to boycott Israel. Alqasem used to head a small chapter of a pro-boycott student group. But now she says she no longer supports the boycott. She was held at the airport while she fought in court for the right to enter Israel. Her story caught international attention following several other cases of Israel detaining left-wing critics at the airport and border, and it caused some embarrassment in Israel.

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TZIPI HOTOVELY: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israeli radio last week that Israel's ban on Alqasem was not very successful. She said Israel should reconsider how it applies its entry ban. "When it turns into an international issue, we lose more than we win," she said. But Israeli's Strategic Affairs minister, Gilad Erdan, who led Israel's campaign to ban Alqasem, defended the move.

GILAD ERDAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: He said, "don't just look at articles in The New York Times and the media critical of Israel." He argued, "There are thousands of pro-Israel students in the U.S. who contend with pro-Palestinian activists on campus who will support our move with Alqasem."

Proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement say they are peacefully protesting Israel's treatment of Palestinians. But Israeli leaders have called it a campaign to undermine Israel's legitimacy as a country. Lara Alqasem's case reached Israel's Supreme Court, which ruled that Alqasem had not been involved in boycott activities for more than a year and had demonstrated an academic curiosity about Israel. She was released from the airport yesterday. Leora Bechor is her lawyer.

LEORA BECHOR: It's a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law. Lara's case proves that thought policing has absolutely no place in a democracy.

ESTRIN: A right-wing Israeli activist group said it would be closely monitoring Alqasem during her time in Israel to ensure she did not promote a boycott. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which had supported Alqasem's case in court, said it looked forward to having her on campus next week. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.