Dozens of students took part in a Nakba Day rally in a Be'er Sheva university on Monday. The southern city's mayor expressed his anger with the fact that some of the participants waved Palestinian flags.
Be'er Sheva mayor said he was "shamed and shocked" at the sight of "Palestinian flags being proudly waved after the demonstration at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva marking Nakba Day, the day commemorating the displacement of the majority of Palestinian people during the Israeli war of independence.
"The permission the university gave for this protest shows weakness," Mayor Ruvik Danilovich said, adding that political activity on campus should be forbidden. The letter claims that attendees at the rally sang “songs glorifying the enemies of Israel, who want only to destroy it.”
In response, the university chapter of the Israeli communist party, Hadash, which organized the event, said that they sang and called no such messages. "Our message is the commemoration of Nakba day and nothing beyond that," said Guevara Bader, the chapter's chairman.
"This was a demonstration, not a protest, and it was very successful because we fulfilled all of our goals," he added. "There were no riots, no uncomfortable incidents, and at 12:15 on the dot we dispersed in accordance with the agreement. Both sides are allowed to protest and express their opinion but not to act violently."
A counterprotest of some 50 activists from “Im Tirtzu," an Israeli right-wing group, was held several meters away from the rally, with barricades and security personnel separating them. The counterprotesters sang the Israeli national anthem and yelled at the demonstrators that “the Temple Mount is ours,” “Give up your citizenship,” “Go home,” “Go to Syria,” and “Death to terrorists.”
About 100 students watching the two fenced areas from the side protested against both of the demonstrations. "They don't serve anybody, just the politicians and the media," one student said. "It just exacerbates the divisiveness and that's because of social media. Thought leaders go overboard for likes and their status"
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Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who is also against the rally, said that the images are “unacceptable.” She spoke about it with the university’s president, Daniel Chamovitz, telling him that “the images we saw this morning are unacceptable. Under the examination we are conducting with the Higher Education Council’s legal counsel regarding students who take part in incitement, violence, or harm to state symbols, we shall also examine such incidents.”
Ben-Gurion University said in response: “Why did we allow waving the Palestinian flag on campus? This is the first time that students asked to hold a demonstration and wave the Palestinian flag. We checked, and the counsel we received from the attorney general was that waving the flags is allowed. The attorney general based his opinion on the fact that this is the flag of the Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has agreements.
"Of course the sight was problematic and painful to most of the university’s staff. We are proud of our students, on both ends of the political divide, who managed to express their views and protest democratically, in a manner that did not devolve to expressions of violence such as we have seen elsewhere. That is our strength.
"We conclude a day on which Israel’s flag flew proud on campus, on which our anthem was sung in a huge chorus, alongside other flags and songs. The events of today show that there is room for a plethora of opinions at a university which is public in the State of Israel, a Jewish and democratic state. We are proud to walk in the footsteps of David Ben-Gurion, and proud to be a leading institute of higher learning, which alongside knowledge and academic work, also has an educational role.”