Israel’s University Chiefs Slam ‘Fascistic’ Bill Outlawing Palestinian Flag, Warn of Academic Boycott

University heads argue that the aim of the legislation is to ‘turn academic institutions into branches of the Israeli Police and the Shin Bet’

The heads of Israel’s universities have come out strongly against a proposal that would force academic institutions to suspend any student who displays the Palestinian flag or expresses support for terrorism.

In a letter published on Thursday, the Committee of University Heads argued that that true goal of the bill is ‘to turn academic institutions into branches of the Israeli Police and the Shin Bet’ and to oblige them to ‘monitor hundreds of thousands of students while imposing penalties on actions that are currently under the protection of freedom of expression.’

The letter, which was sent to members of Israel’s Council for Higher Education prior to their discussion on the matter at the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, also warned that the bill would harm both freedom of expression and academic freedom.

The bill was presented to the Knesset by Son Har Hamelech in February. It states that a student who expresses support for a terrorist organization or waves the Palestinian flag or that of any other enemy country, will be suspended for a period not short of 30 days. A student cell that does the same will be dissolved.

The bill further states that a repeat violation would result in permanent exclusion from all academic activity and denial of eligibility for an academic degree for a period of five years.

Arguing their objection, the university heads noted that the right to education, employment and freedom of speech ‘is granted even to felons and convicted criminals who have been sentenced.’

The committee members further claimed that any politicization of the decision-making process at the universities ‘will severely damage the status of the Israeli academy in the world,’ and that the proposed bill ‘will justify all arguments by BDS organizations, and will lead to a wave of academic boycotts of Israeli institutions worldwide.’

Earlier on Thursday, Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University, sent a letter in which he harshly objected Son Har Hamelech’s bill, saying that the university will not act according to it.

‘The Palestinian Authority is not an enemy state and is not a terror organization. Waving the Palestinian flag is an act that is protected under freedom of expression,’ Porat wrote.

‘If we are to act according to this law, we would probably have to ban most of our students, who would rightly object to this form of oppression and will not hesitate to wave the Palestinian flag.’

Porat called on the government to prevent a situation in which universities are ‘turned into law enforcement agencies.’ Porat further warned that ‘if this fascistic bill is legislated, real McCarthyism will appear in the campuses and students will spy on each other.’

‘We will no longer have an open discussion; no more pluralism of different opinions; no more tolerance for one another. These will be replaced by suspicion, enmity and fear,’ Porat added.

Also on Thursday, the Association for Civil Rights Israel issued a strong objection to the bill, which, according to them violates the freedom of expression, ‘creates thought police,’ and endangers academic freedom.

‘Academic freedom and freedom of expression are two basic values that are intertwined. Going forward with this bill will seriously damage them,’ it said.

‘This [bill intends to] erase the Palestinian identity from the academic public sphere, and to harass those who do not identify with the Zionist ethos as it is perceived by the far-right.’