University of Haifa Cancels Nakba Day Event at Last Minute

Critics say the commemoration of the events of 1948 was called off following pressure from right-wing groups.

The University of Haifa rescinded permission for a student-organized Nakba Day event on Wednesday, just three hours before the event was to have taken place. The university's president, Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, announced the cancelation even after organizers received permits from all relevant bodies.

The event, commemorating Palestinian losses in the 1948 war, had been organized by Jewish and Arab students and lecturers. It was to have featured actor Salim Dau in a one-man play about 1948 and the period of Israeli military rule over Arab Israelis.

Students and lecturers gathered outside the university to protest the decision after the cancelation was announced. "It saddens me that I discover courage in some academic institutions but I do not find it in my own," said Dr. Ilan Saban of the university's law faculty.

The Hadash students' organization released a statement saying, "Our feeling is that little by little we are returning to the period of military rule, and from the most unexpected place - academia." The group said the university sought "calm at any cost, and of course the cost is always to people from the left side of the political map."

The group went on to accuse the university of "bowing its head before any threat from students of the extreme right," adding that it is sad that "this is a university that constantly declares that it is proud of its pluralism and that freedom of expression is an important principle for it."

The head of the university's student union, Yossi Shalom, said major unrest had been avoided by canceling the event, which he said "created fire from every direction, because [the organizers] publicized it on Facebook and in their flyers they invited people from the outside ... to create a provocation." Shalom said the student union asked the unversity management to look into the matter because "We have a major responsibility for the students and it doesn't matter whether they are Arab or Jewish."

Shalom insisted there was no comparison between the event planned at the University of Haifa and the one that took place on Monday at Tel Aviv University, which was held off campus. "Here they asked to put on a play, and that is absolutely fine, but it turned out that according to their publicity in Arabic, it was a different event entirely."

Shalom rejected the idea that the cancelation impaired freedom of expression. "There are rules of ethics that can't be broken, which come before freedom of expression. No one wants to shut people up. The campus is very sensitive and people come here to learn."

Dau, the actor who was to perform at the event, said, "This behavior of the University of Haifa makes me sick. It saddens me that Tel Aviv University allowed such a beautiful event to be held, which even the dean took part in. My play was held in the biggest hall there, and here in Haifa they don't allow it."

The university responded, "Although the event was presented at the beginning as a 'cultural event' it turned out ... that the event was of a different character altogether, intended to mark Nakba Day. Under these circumstances the university could not allow the event to take place." The university said it would continue to allow public events that it approves and that meet the conditions of the permit and university regulations.

Students in Nakba Day protest outside Haifa University, May 16, 2012.
Hagai Frid