The University of Haifa canceled on Wednesday a student-organized public event to commemorate the Nakba, just three hours before the event was due to begin.
Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe, and for Israeli Arabs it marks the anniversary of events leading to Israel's independence in 1948.
Haifa University president Aharon Ben-Ze'ev announced the cancelation at the last minute, despite the fact that the organizers had been granted all the necessary permissions to go ahead with the event.
The commemoration was organized collaboratively, with the involvement of Arab and Jewish students, and Haifa University academic faculty. Actor Salim Daw was also due to take part.
On hearing of the cancelation, students and academic staff demonstrated against the decision outside the university.
Dr. Ilan Saban, a member of the university’s law faculty said that he had “serious criticism” over the university, and that, in his opinion, the institution is not aware of the importance it has, and the example it sets, at a critical time for Israeli society.
Meanwhile, the head of the university’s student union, Yossi Shalom, claimed that a major disturbance was avoided thanks to the cancelation of the event, because the organizers had advertised on Facebook and on leaflets that they were inviting guests from outside the university, and these, according to Shalom, would create a provocation.
“We approached university management, and asked them to check everything,” he said. “We have a great responsibility over the students and it doesn’t matter if they are Jews or Arabs, we do not want agitation among the students on campus.”
The head of the university’s Hadash party student group, Muhammad Halaila, said that the management of the university had bowed to pressure from the Student Union, and the organization Im Tirzu. “I think that this is a clear declaration that there is no freedom of expression, and no academic freedom, at the University of Haifa,” he said.
In response to the cancelation, Salim Daw described the university’s handling of the situation as “nauseating,” and added, “It saddens me that at Tel Aviv University they were allowed to set up such a beautiful event, that even the dean of students took part in it, and my play was shown in the biggest hall of the university, and here in Haifa they do not allow it."
In response, the university said: '"The University of Haifa announced today that it would not allow the event marking Nakba Day that was meant to take place on university grounds to go ahead. Although initially the event was presented as a ‘cultural event,’ yesterday it turned out, from things published by the students, among other things, that the event was completely different. In these circumstances, the university decided not to allow the event to take place. The University of Haifa announced that it will continue to permit public events that it has given permission to that hold by permit conditions and university standards.”
A similar incident took place at the university in December last year, when it canceled an event to mark three years since Operation Cast Lead. At the time, university management claimed that the reason for the cancelation was that there was “a significant difference” between the event that was originally planned, and which it had given permission to, and the content of the event as it appeared on the announcements distributed on the day that it was due to take place.
A ceremony to commemorate Nakba Day was held on Monday at Tel Aviv University (TAU). The university approved a request to hold the ceremony last week. TAU approved the ceremony, but required the organizers to provide funding for the salaries of the six guards securing the event. The location was also changed due to security reasons, from the social sciences building to the university's entrance.
In January, the High Court of Justice upheld the controversial Nakba Law passed by the Knesset, which grants the Finance Minister the authority to reduce the budget of state-funded bodies that openly reject Israel as a Jewish state or mark the state's Independence Day as a day of mourning.