Ben-Gurion University students may be made to pay for protests

Last week the Beersheba District Court overruled the university's ban on protesting on campus.

Student protest court 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Student protest court 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Students wishing to organize protests at Ben-Gurion University should expect to face copious amounts of bureaucracy and even costs if they wish to campaign on campus. A notice written by university vice-president and CEO David Bareket last week and obtained by The Jerusalem Post said that to hold protests on the Beersheba campus, students must first write to the student dean and security department for permission. Demonstrations will be allowed only in areas designated by the university, and students may be asked to pay an undisclosed amount if "exceptional expenses" are incurred by a protest - with "exceptional" to be determined by university management. Dean of students Ya'acov Afek and university president Rivka Carmi commented that the notice is still in "draft" form, currently in its fourth revision, with the final version due for release next week. Until last year, students were banned from protesting on campus, but the Beersheba District Court overruled the university's prohibition in response to a petition by students. Judge Ariel Vago rejected the university's claim that demonstrations threaten public order, stating, "the right to demonstrate on political or controversial matters is enshrined in the Students Rights Law." The current revision of the protest rules is a "political tool" to discourage students from campaigning and "embarrassing" the institution, according to 28-year-old student activist Yoav Simhoni, who studies politics and government as well as philosophy at Ben-Gurion. Alongside his peers, Simhoni is battling to amend the new rules to make student campaigning more accessible. On hearing of the new regulations last Monday, Simhoni immediately sent an application requesting a student protest on the issue, but it was rejected on Thursday. Simhoni had planned to hold the demonstration during the meeting of the university's board of governors, who are visiting the campus this week. "Instead of working with the judge's [ruling], they decided to get around it," Simhoni told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "This is not a financial tool, it's a political tool," he said. Student activists at the university are not alone on this issue. Around 20 faculty members are also lobbying the university to change the rules. One of whom is Neve Gordon, who teaches politics at the university. Gordon takes exception to the potential financial liabilities students could incur, arguing that this amounts to sidelining poorer students. "Only student organizations that have money can protest… that is an undemocratic rule," stated Gordon. "What the students are asking from the university is to create a situation where the right to protest inside the university is the same as the right to protest outside. I think that is a legitimate claim." Gordon, along with another staff member who does not wish to be named, stressed that the students' desire to demonstrate is admirable and should be encouraged, not impeded by the university. "It seems to us that as an institution that tries to create better citizens and citizens that participate in the political process as a democracy… we want students to protest for the rights of the weak, that's exactly the students we want in this university," said Gordon. Another controversial policy endorsed by the university even prior to these recent demands is to have all student protests filmed by its security team, which has also been condemned by that students and faculty members. The university claims that filming is necessary to document any violence that takes place, but Gordon disregards this as "bogus," believing that that the intention is to intimidate protesters. On one occasion, earlier this year, the university's security team handed over a tape to police, which enabled them to arrest a student who took part in a demonstration against Operation Cast Lead. Head of security at the university, Naftali Presler, admitted to assisting the police in that case. "The police cameraman asked if he could use our camera and we said yes, because we can and it's not against the law. If something happens and the police ask for our help, we will help them," he said. Afek, the student dean, stressed that the document obtained by the Post has not yet been finalized. "The rules are not yet ratified," Afek said last Thursday. "We have to wait for the final document because there are many changes." Asked when the final document is due for release, Afek replied: "It's not so important, one more day, two more days. I hope [this] week we will have the final [document] and I think everything will be OK and all will be satisfied."