University bans Arab students from waving Palestinian flag during protests

Arab legal rights group lawyer: Haifa U. is denying students freedom of speech, flag didn't lead to violence in past.

By
November 28, 2013 23:12
3 minute read.
An Israeli Arab waves Palestinian flag during protest outside district court in Haifa, Nov 28, 2013.

Israeli Arab man raises Palestinian flag 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

 
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The University of Haifa banned Arab students from waving Palestinian flags during protests that took place earlier this week against the Begin-Prawer plan, causing reactions from NGOs for and against the decision.

Fady Khoury, a lawyer for Adalah, an Arab legal rights group, told The Jerusalem Post that the university is violating the principle of freedom of speech and should not act as a filter or interfere in the substance of expression.

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The Begin-Prawer plan is being debated in the Knesset and seeks to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev.

Raising the flag is not illegal, though we do understand that it is a controversial issue, he said. Still, “we are saying that the freedom of expression exists.”

Despite the ban, Khoury said that some students still raised the flag and so he is not sure the ban was completely enforced.

Asked if raising the flag could be seen as a provocation, he said that in the past the flag has been used in protests and it “did not lead to violence.”

He said as of Wednesday that Adalah had not received a response from their letter to the university.

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The University of Haifa has been under pressure in the media as of late as the Im Tirtzu movement published a report earlier this month finding that a legal clinic, run out of the law department, was giving legal aid to convicted terrorists.

Im Tirtzu criticized the university for using public funds in order to help the Arab political agenda.

The university rejected the charges in the report and said that cases in question occurred a few years ago.

Ronen Shoval, the founder and head of Im Tirtzu, argued that it finds the fact that the university is banning the Palestinian flag at this time to be “pathetic spin by the university to show itself to be Zionist.”

“We exposed a few weeks ago what is going on in the University of Haifa legal clinic – that they are helping terrorists and so instead of dealing with that issue they are making spin that the Arabs are mad at them,” he said.

Regarding the issue of banning the Palestinian flags, Im Tirtzu sides with the university since one must distinguish between freedom of expression or academic freedom and Arabs creating “an atmosphere of fear.” It is an abuse of freedom of speech, he said.

Alon Schvartzer, the campus coordinator for Im Tirtzu, told the Post that this is not the first time that Palestinian flags have been seen on campus.

“Students are scared to say things in class and are worried about their grades if they go to complain,” he said.

Asked about this argument, Khoury said that he does not want to address Im Tirtzu’s claims, but he thinks that they may be correct in that the university may have wanted to appear more Zionist after being accused of aiding terrorists in their legal clinic.

University of Haifa spokesman, Ilan Yavelberg, told the Post that all of these groups are creating provocations in order to get into the news.

“Haifa University will not allow provocations from any party, which causes damage to the life on campus and violations to the public order,” said a statement sent to the Post.

The university is “an example of tolerance and coexistence among all sectors of the population in Israel.”

The statement went on to add that the university is proud to invite the members of Adalah to the university in order to show how it operates in an atmosphere of cooperation and provides academic research at the highest level.

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