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The Academy for Silencing Opposition

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Protesters at Ben Gurion University on Nakba Day. The university’s behavior indicates a surrender to the right.
Protesters at Ben Gurion University on Nakba Day. The university’s behavior indicates a surrender to the right.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir government isn’t yet formed, but the public mood is already fully dictated by the far right and its culture of political persecution and silencing. The student union at Be’er Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University was scheduled on Tuesday to hold an event for Arab students marking the new academic year. It was canceled, however, after the school banned key elements of the celebration, citing concerns about incitement, risk to public safety and bureaucratic difficulties. When the student union realized that many students would refuse to attend as a result, it scrapped the entire event (Nati Yefet, Dec. 7).

The event was to include a fair with a Bedouin tent, stalls selling traditional food, Arabic stickers and crafts and a musical performance. The university administration had withdrawn approval last Thursday for the tent and the stalls and said the concert must be held in an auditorium that seats less than one-fifth of the Arab students. The “bureaucratic” reasons it gave the organizers were puzzling.

A month ago, the university canceled the participation in the concert of singers Rola Azar and Aya Khalaf. “They said Azar was too political and harsh in her criticism of Israel and its attitude to the Palestinians, so she is a security risk,” a student familiar with the details said. She added that Khalaf was “less political” but “they said there was a security issue with her, too.” She said the administration asked the organizers for a list of the artists “from which they approved Eyad Tannoss, a Christian Arab who mainly sings love songs, and a young, unknown singer.”

Ben-Gurion University has a record of violating freedom of expression – last month it canceled an appearance by the East Jerusalem oud player Canaan Ghoul, claiming that he supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and had signed a letter calling on the singer Celine Dion not to perform in Israel. (Ghoul denies this). Ben-Gurion University’s dean of students Prof. Orna Almog said: “There is an almost certain danger of harm to public safety.” Two months ago, the university took disciplinary action against a student who, at a Nakba Day ceremony, quoted from an article by the late Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish with the word shahid (“martyr”).

At a time when freedom of expression is under assault and political minorities are portrayed as a fifth column, universities would be expected to fight racism, the silencing of opposition and political persecution. The conduct of Ben-Gurion University indicates surrender to the right. The school and its president, Prof. Daniel Chaimovitz, are sending its Arab students a message: Your identity is limited to matters of food and folklore. National identity is for Jews only. In doing so, they also damaged the university’s standing as a respected institution of higher education.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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