Debate between right-wing and Arab MKs grew heated in a Monday discussion of Tel Aviv University’s “Nakba Day” events in the Knesset Education Committee.
Committee chairman Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu), who also proposed the law allowing government offices to pull funding from organizations commemorating the “Nakba,” invited representatives from Tel Aviv University to explain why they allowed the Hadash-organized event to take place.
The Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic, is an annual commemoration when Arabs mourn the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Hundreds of people later showed up at the university's Antine Square for the "Nakba Day" event, but a counter-demonstration held at the site was even bigger than the original event. One person was arrested during the course of the events.
According to Miller, the event is “taking advantage of state-funded academia to damage the state on its day of independence.”
The committee chairman called for Tel Aviv University’s administration to recognize that a government-backed law opposes such activities, and prevent the event from taking place.
MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) interrupted Miller, saying that Tel Aviv University is in Sheikh Munis, an Arab village that was abandoned in 1948.
Likud MK Miri Regev said the “Nakba Day” event should be taking place in Gaza, not in Tel Aviv, because it de-legitimizes the State of Israel.
Regev and MK Mohammad Barakeh, whose Hadash party sponsored the campus event, traded barbs that escalated into a shouting match, and Barakeh was briefly removed from the meeting.
“Is this the education committee or the inquisition?” Zahalke asked.
Council for Higher Education representative Ricky Mandelzwig said that unviersities and colleges should use their judgment and not allow incitement against the State of Israel on campus.
“Regev should not be allowed on campuses, because she incites against Arabs all the time,” Zahalke said. The Likud MK retorted: “Yes, because only terrorists are allowed.”
“You do not understand academia – you are ignorant and small-minded,” Zahalke shouted at Regev.
According to Tel Aviv University Director-General Moti Cohen, the event is permissible under the Student Rights Law, and is a memorial ceremony representing cooperation between Jews and Arabs, not a form of incitement.
“We are a democratic institution in a democratic state, and as long as no one is breaking the law, we allow students to hold events,” Cohen explained.
Miller, who also proposed the Student Rights Law, expressed disappointment that his pieces of legislation were being used against each other.
“In Tel Aviv University, they are mourning a population that supposedly lived there,” Miller began, before being interrupted by MK Afo Agbaria (Hadash).
“Supposedly? We were here thousands of years! You were not here, that is for sure,” Agbaria said to Miller, who hails from Moscow.
“If you wanted to hold an event in memory of Nazis, should we allow it? How is that different?” the committee chairman asked, adding: “Yes, I tend to exaggerate.”
MK Ahmed Tibi said Israelis should empathize with the Palestinians’ suffering, because Jews are a people that suffered throughout history. He added that most Australians commemorate the Aborigine’s version of the “Nakba,” and their state is not threatened by it.
“The Aborigines did not start a war against Australia! How can you compare the two?” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) asked. “The Arab nations started a war against us!”
MK Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beytenu) accused the Arab MKs of representing terrorists.
Matalon said Tibi, who was an adviser to Yasser Arafat, “worked for the next Hitler, a person who sent terrorists to kill Jewish children!”
“That was one of the greatest times in my life,” Tibi responded.