Members of the Knesset Rally Against Nakba Day

After commemorations and demonstrations on Israeli university campuses resulted in violent confrontations this week, Israeli Cabinet members plan to propose a bill that will forbid the observance of Nakba Day in any Israeli educational institution, writes Omri Meniv.

al-monitor Israelis hold their national flags during a protest against pro-Palestinian demonstrators marking Nakba Day, outside Tel Aviv University May 14, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Nir Elias.

موضوعات

violence, university, nakba bill, nakba, mk, demonstrations

اردیبهشت ۲۸, ۱۳۹۱

On Monday, May 14, it was in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, May 15, in Jerusalem and Wednesday, May 16, in Haifa. The wave of Nakba Day events is swept through campuses in Israel. The parliamentary response is already underway. The Knesset Education Committee Chairman, Alex Miller [of the far-right nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu] is to submit a Bill under which any institution allowing Nakba Day commemoration events on its premises will be deprived of governmental funding.

The bill proposed by Miller concerns any ceremonies or events that negate the existence of the State of Israel [as the state of the Jewish people], including Nakba Day commemoration events on university campuses. The initiative for the proposed bill was launched once it transpired that under the "Nakba Law" currently in force, institutions allowing such ceremonies and events on their premises cannot be denied state funding since the events, as well as the security arrangements involved, are sponsored by the organizers of the events rather than by the institutions in question.

Under the "Nakba Law" passed by the Israeli Parliament in 2011, events like these may be held on university campuses as long as the university itself is not responsible for financing them. [The Law stipulates that “any body that is funded by the state, or a public institute that is supported by the state, will be barred from allocating money to activity that involves the negation of the existence of the State of Israel."] The proposed amendment to the Law is designed to bar higher education institutions from holding on their premises any events that commemorate the establishment of the State of Israel as a day of mourning, regardless of the body in charge of sponsoring the event.

Education Minister and Council for Higher Education Chairman Gideon Sa'ar, interviewed said on May 15 on [Israeli Radio] "Arutz Sheva", said that Nakba Day events "are quite likely to lead to the amendment of the Law." Minister Sa'ar appealed to Tel Aviv University President Professor Joseph Klaftner a few days ago and urged him to cancel the planned on-campus Nakba Day events. However, the events were held as scheduled.

Tension in Haifa

On May 15, a solidarity demonstration was held on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in commemoration of the Nakba. During the event, PLO flags were waved. As in other on-campus rallies, tempers flared between the Arab demonstrators and activists from the [grassroots Zionist] "Im Tirtzu" movement who confronted them.

The Nakba Day events on the Tel Aviv University campus opened Monday [May 14] with leftist activists and Arab students and politicians attending the Nakba Day memorial. The charged atmosphere heated up when, on the one side, right-wing counter-demonstrators were chanting “Havenu Nakba alechem” (“We've brought a Nakba upon you”) [in paraphrase of “Havenu shalom alechem” (“We've brought peace upon you”)] and "Death to the terrorists", burning PLO flags, and on the other side, memorial attendees were yelling the PLO battle cry, "with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine." The following evening [Tuesday, May 15], two other events were held on the Tel Aviv campus — the one organized by [the joint Jewish- Arab socialist party] "Hadash"(the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) and the other, by the [Arab] student group "Iqra", which is associated with the Islamic movement.

A rally of Arab students is expected to take place today on the Haifa University campus. Considering rising tensions on the campus, the Haifa University administration fears a flare-up. The University approved a request by the Arab students to stage a play on the campus but barred them from holding any Nakba Day ceremonies. [It has meanwhile been reported that the University later canceled the student-organized event initially approved after learning that it was intended to commemorate the Nakba.] However, already yesterday [May 15], dozens of Arab students at Haifa University held a two-hour protest strike and handed out fliers with the message, “Long live Palestine. We welcome the prisoners’ victory. Yes to the Right of Return.” On May 16, they were expected to commemorate the Nakba and address a rally. The University administration banned leftist activist Sa'ar Skali from the ceremony.

Chairman of the Haifa University Student Union Yossi Shalom said: "We gravely view the deplorable conduct of those seeking to disrupt the calm and friendly academic atmosphere on the campus." The Haifa University issued a statement saying that "the University takes a stern view of any attempt at incitement against the State of Israel made within Israel and shall not allow provocative events of this kind."

Cabinet Ministers Criticize the Council for Higher Education

Yesterday [May 15], Cabinet Ministers harshly criticized the Council for Higher Education and the universities for allegedly allowing on-campus Nakba commemoration events. "Marking the State of Israel Independence Day as a day of mourning on the premises of an Israeli university is by no means academic freedom, but rather mockery to common sense and reason," Minister of Science and Technology Professor Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi - New National Religious Party) said. "I do hope that university administrations will succeed in foiling attempts to hold such events so that they will not recur." With reference to the Nakba events at the Tel Aviv University Monday, May 14, Hershkowitz said: "What we witnessed on the Tel Aviv campus is an unparalleled outrageous scandal. It does not stand to reason that the university administration would sit idly by while a group of students is trying to turn the Tel Aviv University into the Bir Zeit University."

Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud) said that it was unthinkable that higher education institutions in Israel would provide a platform for such blatant hatred and incitement against the State of Israel and its citizens." Deputy Minister [for the Advancement of Young People, Students and Women] Gila Gamliel called on the Council for Higher Education to issue an explicit instruction banning any activity calling for the annihilation of the State of Israel.

In reaction to the recent events, chairman of the "Im Tirtzu" movement Ronen Shoval called on the Finance Minister to use his power under the "Nakba Law" and cut off state allocations to the universities.

The Council for Higher Education released a statement saying that "the Council is considering the request by the [Knesset] Education Committee and the demand for well defined uniform procedures regarding the issue." 

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