Tel Aviv University invitation for Nakba-themed film festival sparks controversy

The university's official email account was used to send students information about submitting films for a festival promoting "the return of Palestinian refugees."

Tel Aviv University campus (photo credit: PR)
Tel Aviv University campus
(photo credit: PR)
Im Tirtzu, a Zionist student organization, has demanded that Prof. Joseph Klafter, president of Tel Aviv University, “strongly and unequivocally condemn” the call for film submissions to the Zochrot film festival, which was sent out to TAU film department students and graduates.
The festival in question is the third International Film Festival on Nakba and Return, which, according to the Zochrot organization, is “designed to raise public awareness of the crimes of the Nakba and of the return of Palestinian refugees as critical issues that should be on the agenda of the Israeli public.”
Zochrot is a Tel Aviv-based organization that works to promote the idea of Jewish- Israeli accountability for the Nakba, with the end goal of establishing the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Im Tirtzu, calling Zochrot an “anti-Israel organization” in its letter to Klafter, stated that “No one disputes that flooding the State of Israel with millions of Palestinians means not only turning the state into an Arab country but also into a battlefield between different religious communities, just like what is happening in the Middle East.”
The letter went on to state that “the massive distribution of this message by the university on its official mailing list to students and graduates is in our view a matter of grave concern. This action encourages university students to take part in propaganda festivals calling for the destruction of Israel and its citizens.”
The Zochrot organization responded by applauding TAU for “believing in academic freedom – as is fitting for a self-respecting institution of higher learning.” It stated that the choice to participate should be made by each individual according to his ideology and not forced upon students by the academic institution at which they chose to study.
Its response went on to react to the Im Tirtzu organization, stating that “the letter from Im Tirtzu suggests censorship, limiting freedom of expression and art, and limiting academic freedom. This isn’t surprising, of course, from an organization that the courts have declared as having fascist characteristics.”
The reference to the courts is based on a ruling from 2013, in which the court denied most of the case Im Tirtzu brought against leftwing activists who opened a Facebook group calling Im Tirtzu a fascist organization.
The judge stated in his decision that certain similarities exist between the ideology of Im Tirtzu and aspects of fascist ideology.
Zochrot concluded its response by inviting members of the Im Tirtzu organization to attend the film festival in question.
TAU responded by stating that the film department routinely receives information and invitations meant for students, and the information is passed along by the secretaries without consultation with anyone else in the faculty.
“The university has no connection to the advertising of the ‘open call,’ and informing the students in no way indicates a university opinion on the issue of the ‘Nakba.’”