The Israeli Supreme Court has overturned the government’s decision to refuse permission to enter the country to Lara Alqasem, a Palestinian American and a former advocate for the BDS movement. Alqasem had traveled to Israel on a student visa to begin studies at Hebrew University, and she said she no longer supported BDS. She was stopped at Ben Gurion Airport and would have been sent home immediately, but she sought a hearing and a stay, and she has now prevailed.
The decision has proved controversial in Israel, but I think we should applaud it for two reasons. First, let’s stipulate that BDS is a bad and dumb idea. Nonetheless:
[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
This was Mill’s way of saying that it’s affirmatively valuable to allow bad thoughts to be spoken. Now, the age of social media should give all of us at least some pause, but surely Mill’s idea is strongest and most clearly right when we are talking about the university. Ideas are not themselves boycotts.
Second, the decision illustrates the strength of the liberal democratic order in Israel. Sure, Israel has illiberal elements. But its courts, and the government’s acceptance of the courts’ decisions, are one of the Israeli state’s great strengths.