Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis has barred work from students at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design from being exhibited at an international science conference this month in Jerusalem after some students mounted a display in solidarity with the Palestinian protesters killed by Israeli forces on the Gaza border.
More than 60 protesters were killed by Israeli gunfire during clashes with Israeli security forces as tens of thousands of Palestinians massed near the border.
As first reported by the Walla News Hebrew-language website, students at the Jerusalem art academy hung posters at their school on Wednesday with the names of those killed on the border of the Hamas-controlled enclave. Students also displayed a map of the Gaza Strip with the caption “I’m not your toy,” a reference to lyrics from Israeli singer Netta Barzilai’s song “Toy,” with which she won the Eurovision song competition last Saturday night in Lisbon.
Akunis said he is “always in favor of freedom of expression and creativity” but “will not permit freedom of humiliation,” in explaining his decision. “Even Hamas has already announced that the fatalities on the Gaza border are their people, meaning terrorists,” Akunis said in apparent reference to a statement from Hamas official Salah Albardawil in which he provided the figure.
The display also prompted protest from other Bezalel students, who, several hours after the original installation was put up, hung posters with the names of Jews who had been killed in terrorist attacks. For his part, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat took to Twitter to condemn the initial display and to ask that it be taken down. “I was shocked to see the names of terrorists who assaulted the Gaza-Israel border with the goal of killing Jews displayed on the walls of the Bezalel Academy,” he tweeted, saying there are limits to the extent to which “cynical use” can be made to freedom of expression.
For its part, the Bezalel Academy issued a statement calling the school “a protected space for freedom of expression in Israel that permits students free, critical and creative discourse on the range of subjects occupying them.”
The three-day international science conference is due to open in another week and a half and is to be attended by science ministers from around the world. Plans call for the work of design students from around the country to be on display at the conference, but it will not now include the Bezalel Academy.