Israel’s vibrant – though embattled – democracy was on display Monday at Tel
Aviv University in all its glory. Dozens of students – Palestinian and
Jewish – articulated their belief that the events surrounding the creation of
the State of Israel were a “Nakba,” Arabic for catastrophe, after receiving
authorization from Tel Aviv University President Joseph
Participants heard the reading of a poem by the late Palestinian
poet Mahmoud Darwish, observed a moment of silence and – in a clear attempt to
reach out to Jewish students by “Judaizing” the ceremony – recited a version of
the “Yizkor” prayer, traditionally read in synagogues and other Jewish memorial
events for the deceased.
The ceremony strengthens the argument – made by
this paper’s editorial board –that the so-called “Nakba Law” does not violate
the freedom of assembly or the freedom of expression of Israeli citizens – Arab
or Jewish. Though the legislation, passed in March 2011, has been grossly
misrepresented in the press, what it actually says is very
Essentially an amendment to Finance Ministry funding
directives, the Nakba Law empowers the finance minister to stop state budgeting
of organizations, institutions, municipalities or other bodies that use Israeli
taxpayers’ money to fund activities that have the goal of undermining the very
moral foundations of the State of Israel.
As a Jewish state, Israel
cannot be expected to use taxpayers’ money to perpetuate a Palestinian narrative
of victimization that intentionally distorts reality in order to delegitimize
Zionism. After all, Palestinian suffering was the result of the extremist
Palestinian leadership’s rejection of the 1947 UN General Assembly’s partition
plan and the foolish decision by figures such as the anti-Semitic Haj Amin
al-Husseini to launch a war against the fledgling Jewish state. Short of lying
down and dying and trashing aspirations for national self-determination, there
was little Jews could have done to prevent Palestinian suffering.
as a democracy, Israel has an obligation to protect the right of Palestinians to
commemorate their history, regardless how distorted and counterproductive to
peace it might be.
The Nakba Law maintains that delicate balance.
Organizers and university administrators were careful to adhere to the
strictures of the Nakba Law, which forbid the university to use state money to
fund anti-Israel activities.
Tel Aviv University did not take part in
funding of the Nakba Day ceremonies. Organizers had to foot the bill for
expenses such as security guards and decorations. But by permitting the ceremony
to be held on campus, the university’s president was reaffirming the democratic
principles of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Back in January,
Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, and the Association
for Civil Rights in Israel, as well as several Jewish and Arab citizens,
petitioned the Supreme Court against the law. The Supreme Court rejected the
petition, arguing that it was still too early to determine whether the law
contradicted principles of equal rights.
“The questions that this law
raises will only become clear with its implementation,” the justices noted in
their decision. Judging from the way it was applied at Tel Aviv
University, the Nakba Law manages to prevent the inappropriate use of state
funds without curtailing basic human rights.
Unfortunately, there were
those who did not appreciate the Nakba Law’s careful balancing of Israel’s
Jewish and democratic ideals. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar reportedly
attempted to convince Klafter to “reconsider” his decision allowing the event.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University’s Student Union claimed that out of respect for
the feelings of students on campus, the Nakba Day celebration should be
This attempt to stifle free speech did little more than draw
inordinate attention to an event attended by a small number of people
representing a minority of Israelis.
As for the participants in the Nakba
Day commemorations, would it be too much to ask that along with the mourning
over the “catastrophe” they recognize some of the good as well?
Palestinians had succeeded in snuffing out Israel at its very inception there
would almost certainly not be an institute of higher learning like Tel Aviv
University – not just in Israel but in the entire region – that accepts all
students regardless of race, religion or gender and fosters an atmosphere of
free expression. Just something to ponder on Nakba Day.