Tel Aviv University has barred student organizers from running pro-peace events on campus on the pretext that it retroactively discovered a problem with their permit application.
The university originally approved the proposed events on condition that the Standing Together organization pay for the requisite security. But on Monday, it informed the group that its permit had been withdrawn.
In contrast, both the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev approved the organization’s events, which are slated to take place later this week. Moreover, neither of those universities required the organizers to pay for security.
Standing Together had planned several events as part of an End the Occupation Week at all three universities. Inter alia, the students planned to put up booths and hand out leaflets.
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In addition, the TAU chapter had intended to sponsor a lecture on Monday by activists from the Combatants for Peace organization; a meeting between students and Elias Zananiri, a member of the PLO’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, on Tuesday; and a screening of a film by the B’Tselem organization on Wednesday, followed by a discussion with one of B’Tselem’s researchers in the Gaza Strip.
Under TAU’s rules, students who seek to organize campus activities must obtain permits from a special committee as well as the university’s security department. If the event is deemed to require security, whether due to its sensitivity, location or number of participants, the organizers must bear the costs.
Last week, the committee approved Standing Together’s events. The security department then approved them conditional on payment for security.
“Given the nature of the event, I think we’ll need security, and you’ll need to pay for it, as happens at every charged event, whether by students or faculty,” the security department head wrote. “Here we have an issue that’s very charged, especially in recent times.”
Nevertheless, the students weren’t told how much the security would cost.
Then, on Monday morning, just hours before the Combatants for Peace lecture was due to take place, the university informed the organizers that it was rescinding its permits for all the week’s planned events. It said the organizers should have requested a separate permit for each individual event rather than listing them all on a single form – even though the university initially approved that single form.
The students are now trying to get the rest of the week’s events approved, but Monday’s lecture was canceled.
Two years ago, after the university demanded that the campus chapters of the Meretz party and the Breaking the Silence organization finance security for a joint conference they were holding, students petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court, with assistance from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. That petition is still pending.
Meanwhile, each university has set its own policy on funding security for political events. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s bylaws say organizers can be charged for security only if they charge admission to the event in question. Bar-Ilan University’s bylaws permit students to be charged for security costs in all cases. Haifa University’s bylaws don’t even mention this issue. Ben-Gurion University, on the other hand, allows organizers to be charged for security costs only “in exceptional cases.”
Shani Toledano, a member of Standing Together and one of the organizers of the planned events, said the result of TAU’s decision is that “the political consensus has won. Things are happening in this country and students want to talk about them from an opposition standpoint, but the very fact that this discussion is conditioned on paying for security silences these voices. I would have expected Tel Aviv University to allow non-mainstream voices to be heard as well.”
ACRI sent a letter to the university on Monday arguing that charging students for security “essentially sets a ‘price tag’ on expressing different, less popular opinions and is liable to prevent their being heard. It constitutes capitulation to and an incentive for people who threaten to silence others.”
"If the university fears someone on campus might respond violently to an event," the letter added, “it’s the university’s duty to ensure that this fear isn’t realized, even if this entails posting a great many guards.”
The university said that it strives to allow “the broadest possible freedom of expression for all views on campus in accordance with the law, in an egalitarian manner, while being strict about the measures needed to maintain public order and prevent disruption of the institution’s proper functioning.
“By law, matters such as determining an event’s location, time and security arrangements are within the university’s purview, and they are determined in light of the risks and the university’s financial constraints,” it added. “The university doesn’t charge the campus community for using its facilities for activities of a public nature, and it charges event organizers extra money only for measures required to maintain order that go beyond those customary at the university, in line with the [security] professionals’ instructions.”