After Right-wing Pressure, Hebrew U. Cancels Confab on Palestinian Prisoners

A right-wing student group demanded that the conference be canceled, but the university's spokeswoman said it was scrapped for logistical reasons

Students at an Israeli university.
Emil Salman

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem canceled a conference on the Palestinian prisoner movement that was scheduled for the end of May at the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. 

It is not yet clear why the event was canceled, but researchers from outside the university have said that the conference, whose Hebrew title translates as “Fifty Years of Israeli Occupation and Palestinian Opposition: Where the Prisoners’ Movement is Headed,” was scrapped due to pressure from right-wing students on campus.

University spokeswoman Ofra Ash said the conference was canceled as a result of logistics issues, not political pressure. The acting director of the Truman Institute told the conference's organizer that it would be rescheduled, but no date has been set.

The conference was organized before Palestinians in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike on April 17. It was to have featured the research findings of the conference's organizer, Truman Institute associate fellow Maya Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld has studied the impact of the Palestinian political prisoners movement on Palestinian society in the territories for many years.

Former leaders of the prisoners movement were invited to attend the conference, and one of the scheduled speakers was Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former Palestinian Authority prisoner affairs minister.

In recent months, the university administration urged the Truman Institute to make some changes to the conference program. At some point the institute’s acting director, Nissim Otmazgin, told Rosenfeld that the event was being postponed and would be rescheduled.

In an apparent reference to Rosenfeld, a statement issued by the university spokesman’s office said: “In cooperation with the researcher, it was decided not to hold the conference, because it was not possible academically and logistically to make preparations that would assure the high academic level of the conference and its success.”

Objecting to the cancellation of the conference, Hebrew University law professor Alon Harel wrote that he was inviting Rosenfeld to hold it at the law school instead.

In April, a student association affiliated with the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party contacted the university's president, Menahem Ben-Sasson, demanding that the conference be canceled “to prevent harm to the Israeli public, in national solidarity and in memory of soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces” and victims of other hostile acts who have lost their lives.

The group posted a comment on its Facebook page expressing concern about the conference, which it said was doing damage to Israel “as a Jewish and democratic state.”