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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The University of Haifa again came under fire Wednesday for last week's on-campus speech by the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, this time from Knesset Education Committee members.
Salah made waves last week when he gave an inflammatory speech, in Arabic, to a Muslim student group at the university.
Some 100 Jewish student protesters were not allowed into the auditorium.
University officials have explained that the protesters were not permitted in out of security concerns and that other Jewish students were present during the speech.
But it was Salah's words - namely his insinuations that the government had plans to build a third temple on the Temple Mount and his encouragement that Muslims martyr themselves in their struggle against the Jewish state - that caused an outcry among students and politicians alike.
"The University of Haifa should not have allowed the lecture by Sheikh Raed Salah to take place," Education Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said during the meeting. "Those who deny the existence of the state and who have been convicted of severe security violations should not be given an academic platform."
Salah and representatives of the Arab student group that asked him to speak at the university had been invited to the committee hearing but did not attend. Nor did three Arab MKs - Jamal Zahalka (Balad), Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List) and Masud Ghnaim (United Arab List), himself a graduate of the University of Haifa - who had announced their intention to take part in the discussion, but did not show up.
"I cannot help but point out the fact that there are no Arab MKs here," Orlev said during the meeting. "And that can only be because they identify with [Salah]."
Orlev also read off Salah's police record, mentioned his involvement in various public disturbances over the last decade, and read quotations from both the sheikh's speech last week and previous speeches - all equally fiery in their rhetoric.
"There was talk here about academic freedom [as reason to permit Salah to speak]," Orlev said. "But what is Salah's connection to academia?
"I know you, Haifa University," Orlev continued, "I like you, you're a Zionist institution, but I don't get it. We need to send a message here, and that message should be that things like this should not be taking place."
For their part, University of Haifa staff defended the appearance as a misjudgment of their legal adviser, citing the laws protecting freedom of expression and telling Orlev that they were worried they would be taken to court had they not allowed Salah to speak.
"The [Muslim students] tried to bring him on Land Day, for 'Nakba Day,' and a number of other times, which we did not allow," a University of Haifa spokesman said later on Wednesday. "But this time, our legal adviser told us that we would lose in court if we didn't allow him to come to campus.
"But this isn't just our problem," he continued. "This is a problem for all universities in Israel and the State of Israel and its laws. After the Knesset meeting today, we said that our president would recommend not to allow people like Salah to speak on our campus, but we will continue to try and find the right way to allow freedom of expression on campus."
Other Knesset members however, wanted harsher steps taken, including monetary penalties leveled against the university.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) said the university knew full well who Raed Salah was before allowing the event to take place and that their budget should be reflective of such decisions.
"An educational institution that brings a speaker who advocates the destruction of the State of Israel should not receive funding from the State of Israel," Danon said.
Education Committee member MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) said that based on such abuses of freedom of expression, "Israel's democracy was turning into anarchy."
And MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who arrived with his Knesset aide, right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, called Salah, "one of the most radical leaders in Israel.
"His Islamic Movement has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and he refuses to be interviewed by any Zionist, Hebrew-speaking member of the Israeli media," Ben-Ari said. "He won't do it, but you gave him a platform at your university."