A young girl looks down over the city of Haifa..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Supreme Court on Monday pressed the University of Haifa to alter its strict policy regarding campus protests after an appeal was filed against the university by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
In response, the university said it would present a new draft policy to the court and to ACRI within 60 days, giving it enough time to undergo necessary internal processes with the university senate.
ACRI filed the appeal against a change made to the University of Haifa’s bylaws about four years ago that allowed the university president – in consultation with other senior university officials – to ban public demonstrations on campus for an indefinite period. More specifically, ACRI complained about the university’s ban on protests during the 2008-9 Gaza War, the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla, the 2012 Gaza War and other events.
The university said the bans were not indefinite, and were mainly designed to protect public order and secure the academic space for studies during periods of high tension.
It also claimed that other universities have similar powers to limit or ban protests in exceptional situations and that the University of Haifa, with its mixed Jewish-Arab character, faces unique risks of outbreaks of disorder.
The three-justice panel of Esther Hayut, Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel heavily criticized the university, saying that no other academic institution had blanket power to ban protests for an indefinite period, with some limiting bans to a maximum of 30 days. The justices also said no other university had left its power to temporarily ban protests so broad – with the others limiting it to extreme circumstances – and none banned protests without explaining the justification.
Hayut said the court wanted a new draft policy since “it is clear that this language [of the current policy] raises difficulties.”
She added that “limiting free speech is supposed to be done carefully and not in sweeping strokes.”
ACRI lawyer Sharona Eliyahu- Hai stated: “We have noticed a clear trend in recent years of restricting the free speech of University of Haifa students, especially attempts to silence minority opinions on campus. Freedom of speech is a basic component of the democratic system, and universities do not have power over the actualization of that freedom.”