Israeli University Cancels Event Marking Nakba Day, Citing Violation of Law

Tel Aviv University says holding lecture by Hadash lawmaker Ofer Cassif is 'not possible,' invoking so-called Nakba Law which allows state to limit funds to institutions treating Independence Day as day of mourning

Students attend rally to mark Nakba Day outside Tel Aviv University, May 15, 2019.
Hadash-Students

Tel Aviv University has banned a lecture on campus to mark Nakba Day, saying it would have violated Israel's so-called Nakba Law, in a move a prominent human rights organization says it the first time the controversial law has been invoked by an academic institution to restrict political activity.

The university said on Thursday that organizers have "provided clarifications" on the nature of the event following its initial response, and the planned lecture by Hadash party lawmake Ofer Cassif "is now in a process of authorization."

>> Read more: Palestinians uncover history of the Nakba, even as Israel cuts them off from their sources

The request to hold the event was submitted at the beginning of the week by Tom Kori, a literature student and Hadash party activist. On Wednesday, he received a reply from the dean of students, Prof. Tova Most, citing the Nakba Law and saying that in light of the law, “it is not possible to approve the request in its current form.”

Nakba Day is marked by Palestinians on May 15. Nakba, or “catastrophe,” is the Palestinian term used to describe Israel’s founding and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 war. A rally marking Nakba Day was held on Wedensday outside the university's main gate.

Cassif said any attempts "to silence those who speak about the Nakba will not make the Nakba itself or the stain it leaves on our lives go away. We must recognize crimes committed in the past to have a shared future, with equality and peace for both peoples."

The Nakba Law, passed in 2011, bars entities that receive state funds from financing activities that deny the existence of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or its democratic character, vandalism or physical contempt for the Israel flag or state symbol, or marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning. The law authorizes the state to withhold funding from institutions that hold such events.

However, since the law was passed, many events have been held at academic institutions marking Nakba Day. This week, for example, such an event was held at the University of Haifa. A silent protest was also held at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Hadi Waked, a Hadash student organizer at the university, said that “An academic institution that is supposed to educate about values of pluralism is denying students from expressing their pain about a tragedy that befell them, and brutally quashes their freedom of expression.”

“It’s a very broad interpretation of the law," Attorney Raghad Jaraisy of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said of Tel Aviv University's move. "The law doesn’t explicitly ban holding events, but the university decided to use it to bar the holding of an event.”

She added: "The university isn't funding this event at all. Even if they would claim that the university is paying for security at the event, the students pay a security fee at the beginning of every year, so it doesn't relate at all to government funding for the university. The university is going to extreme lengths to inject this event into the context of the Nakba Law. It's a very problematic step."

“It is unacceptable that the university administration would not permit such a basic event for the fabric of student activity on campus,” Hadash-Ta’al MK Yousef Jabareen said. "The dean of student’s decision therefore constitutes a dangerous precedent and critical damage to the students’ right to hold political events on campus as an integral part of freedom of expression."