Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter on Thursday denounced the university's security department for asking lecturers to turn in students involved in demonstrations on campus.
Klafter said the university would probe the department's behavior, which had prompted lecturers and students to accuse TAU of using "secret police" methods to spy on students and suppress protest activities.
As Haaretz reported on Thursday, TAU's head of security had circulated a letter among lecturers along with a YouTube clip showing students calling on their friends to join a socioeconomic protest. The letter asked lecturers to submit the names of students appearing in the video to enable the security department to "identify them in action."
Lecturers and students reacted furiously to the demand, accusing the university of spying on its students like a "secret police."
Klafter agreed. "The security department's request was not approved by the university's authorized bodies and is unacceptable," he wrote in a letter to staff and students on Thursday. "There was no place for [this request] and the university regrets it ... The university will probe the chain of events and draw the required conclusions."
"The university sanctifies freedom of opinion, thought and expression," the letter continued. "Hence it permits gatherings and protests to be held within its walls that reflect the variety of political and social opinions in Israel. The university allows such activities while ensuring public order and safety."
A day earlier, however, the university administration had sung a different tune: It backed the security department's demand in a statement to Haaretz. "The university has taken measures following information about activists' intentions to fortify themselves illegally in the central library," it said then.
Professors voiced outrage over the incident throughout the day on the university's internal communications network. "Every hour in which the head of security remains in office is a disgrace to us all," one said. "If anything should be probed, it's their unacceptable and appalling conduct," said another.
Prof. Aeyal Gross, of the university's law school, said he "was appalled to hear about this and hoped very much that the university would reject it, and I commend it for doing so. We must make sure the university respects students who are 'suspected' of social engagement. It must not threaten students or spy on them."
National Student Union head Itzik Shmuli said, "this is the first time I have encountered a thought police on an Israeli campus, and I strongly object to it. The university's conduct placed it on a par with academic institutions in Tehran and North Korea."
"A student's role isn't only to gain an education; it's also a constant effort to influence the reality he lives in," Shmuli added. "It's inconceivable that the university should try to suppress this spirit. We will fight this wretched decision with everything we've got."
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