BGU student to stand trial for freedom-of-speech protest

Yoav Simhoni, 28, received an order to appear before the university disciplinary committee next Monday.

ben gurion university protest 248.88 (photo credit: Mel Bezalel)
ben gurion university protest 248.88
(photo credit: Mel Bezalel)
A Ben-Gurion University student who has spoken out publicly about the recent clashes between the university's security team and students has been singled out for a disciplinary hearing next week. Yoav Simhoni, 28, who studies politics and government as well as philosophy, received an order to appear before the university disciplinary committee next Monday, following a complaint filed by student dean Ya'acov Afek. The hearing is the latest development in a string of incidents symptomatic of the increasingly turbulent relationship between the university's security team and students. The conflict was set off by the university's new demonstration rules, which require students to cut through copious red tape in order to protest, and escalated last month when 27-year-old masters student Noah Slor was arrested for handing out political flyers outside the campus gates. The letter Simhoni received from the university on Thursday accused him of disobedience to the rules for a university employee and to the instructions regarding demonstrations on the campus - a reference to his participation in an unauthorized demonstration staged last month in response to Slor's arrest. Simhoni did not organize the event, which was a silent protest attended by 60 students to signify students being "gagged" from expressing themselves, but is being held responsible because he unsuccessfully applied to hold a demonstration opposing the university's new rules. The silent protest took place alongside an academic ceremony attended by the university's board of governors and high-profile Israeli figures. Simhoni, who told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he had received "overwhelming support" from students and academic staff, believes he is a scapegoat for the security controversy. He also believes the hearing could be a personal attack because of his well-known involvement in freedom-of-speech issues at the university. University spokesman Amir Rozenblit commented that "the university administration stands behind the security department and supports it." "The Dean of Students denied the request during this specific event [the academic ceremony], but was prepared to consider the request again and give permission for it at another time. Despite this, Simhoni participated in the student demonstration held during the ceremony, without having received permission. Violation of the regulations pertaining to public and political activity on campus constitutes a disciplinary violation according to clauses 8.2 and 8.21 of the student disciplinary code... The regulations of public and political activity in clause 14 state: "Any student breaching the regulations will be brought before a disciplinary hearing or a legal prosecution will be brought against him, according to the circumstances." "It should be pointed out that on the request the student made to hold the demonstration, he signed an acknowledgment that he had read the regulations and would abide by them. It's inconceivable that a student who consciously participates in an unapproved demonstration should be unaware of the consequences of his actions and the possibility that he will be brought before a disciplinary hearing," said Rozenblit. He would not deny that expulsion was a possibility for Simhoni, and added that the university's security team "tries to carry out its role reliably and fairly, while following the university rules and in accordance with the law." Students and staff are being encouraged to attend Simhoni's hearing through a group on social-networking site Facebook, established by Simhoni himself. Students have responded with their support, including university alumnus Maya Goldstein, who commented: "I have not been a student at the Ben-Gurion University for a few years, but it saddens me that the situation of freedom of speech and expression of opinion has not improved. It always bothered me that "it is forbidden to express political standpoint on the campus," as if the campus is a sort of bubble within Israeli society. It looks as if the situation is deteriorating and that's unfortunate." Many staff members have signed a petition addressed to the university leadership, demanding an end to the current situation.