The president of the Interdisciplinary Center, Uriel Reichman, described the human rights watchdog B'Tselem as a "fifth column" and said that inviting its representatives to speak at the college was "disgraceful," students who spoke to the president told Haaretz. Reichman denies ever making the statements.
On April 15, the private college based in Herzliya held a "Democracy Day," during which they invited 40 organizations to set up stalls near the campus cafeteria. However, only the groups B'Tselem, the Movement for Quality Government, Im Tirtzu and the National Left responded.
During the event, one student apparently approached Reichman to protest the presence of B'Tselem on campus. Another student, who witnessed the conversation, said Reichman responded by saying he hadn't been consulted about inviting B'Tselem, that he found it disgraceful and that the organization was a fifth column.
"Some of the students were angry and protested the presence of B'Tselem at the IDC," Omri Akunis, one of the event organizers, told Haaretz. He added that he did not think the college would allow the organization to participate in the event next year.
Reichman told Haaretz that he never made the comments. "It's nonsense," he said. "B'Tselem was invited to the campus. A student approached me to say he thought that they shouldn't be there, that they're a hostile element, a fifth column and so on. I told him that you can't drive out someone who was invited.
"The same student then sent a letter, which the deputy president for student affairs replied to," Reichman continued. "She explained to him that the group had been invited by students, but that we do not identify with the organization. In other words, she wrote that the fact the organization was invited by students does not mean we endorse it. I'm not a supporter or admirer of B'Tselem, but I certainly told that young man that we're not going to kick out any organization we have invited. We're not going to gag anyone."
Several IDC students expressed anger over at Reichman's remarks.
"It's very disappointing that the person heading this institution, who educates us about democracy, doesn't know how to live at peace with it himself," one student said.
The college spokesman told Haaretz that "Reichman is working under the assumption that his students are truthful, and he doesn't recall ever making such a statement. He does not agree with B'Tselem's methods, but he nevertheless maintains and will continue to maintain full pluralism and freedom of speech."
B'Tselem issued the followed comment on the matter: "We welcome the statement made by Professor Reichman, which indicates that although he doesn't support the organization, he supports the organization's right to make its positions known. Defending the right to express an opinion even when one doesn't agree with it is the very essence of freedom of speech. B'Tselem will continue stating its positions and encouraging public discussion in Israel of human rights in the Occupied Territories."
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