classroom - Alberto Denkberg - April 24, 2009
Grade 11 students in Be'er Sheva (illustration). Photo by Alberto Denkberg
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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev this week started subjecting students involved in campus protests to disciplinary action, in contravention of its own regulations.

On Tuesday, a student who organized a demonstration for maintenance workers' rights at the Be'er Sheva campus was brought in for a disciplinary hearing, and on Wednesday, several students who protested against Israel's Gaza flotilla raid will be summoned as well. In all, seven students will be disciplined, with penalties as severe as suspension from classes.

Students and faculty criticized the measures, with several law professors volunteering to represent the summoned students. Dr. Dani Filc, head of the Politics and Government Department at BGU, said students shouldn't be turned into "lawbreakers," adding, "We should be glad to have students like these." Filc will represent the students called in on Wednesday.

Sources at the student unions at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said they couldn't remember any instances of students at their institutions being disciplined for similar matters.

"A student who intends to demonstrate is treated as a lawbreaker even before he actually demonstrates ... The result is real damage to freedom of expression," a source said.

Tuesday saw the disciplinary hearing of Tal Baharav, a student in the Education and Politics and Government departments who led the maintenance workers' fight. That campaign began six months ago, with a rally for which Baharav had received university authorization. But after he took the campaign further by writing a letter of protest to university president Rivka Carmi, he was accused of "violating the terms set for holding the demonstration." Still, Baharav received a relatively light sentence: a warning against engaging in similar activity in the future.

Baharav said after his hearing on Tuesday, "This summons carried a clear message, that students who want to be socially active on campus are under threat, as are their studies."

Boaz Toporovsky, head of the National Union of Israeli Students, has also thrown his weight behind Baharav. Earlier this week he wrote to Carmi describing the Ben-Gurion student as "an activist dedicated to the rights of contract workers. I ask you to reconsider Baharav's behavior in light of all the work he has done for social justice and equality."

A statement from the university read: "Regulations for social and political activity at the university hold that anyone violating them will be called in for a disciplinary hearing, or will be charged in court, depending on the circumstances."

The university added that the students summoned for disciplining "are charged with violating regulations, irrespective of political orientation."