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Israel’s government delays debate on banning PLO flags on campus

Palestinians hold signs and flags during an anti-Israel protest in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, June 15, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Palestinians hold signs and flags during an anti-Israel protest in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, June 15, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

Israel on Sunday delayed for a month a debate over a bill to eject university students who wave Palestinian flags on campus, following opposition from university heads and the Attorney General’s office.

The bill, titled “Removing terrorist-supporting students from an educational institution and disbanding terrorist-supporting cells,” was submitted by Knesset member Limor Son Har-Melech of the Otzma Yehudit Party as an amendment to Israel’s Students’ Rights Law of 2007.

The amendment states, “These are prohibited within the scope of an institution: 1) Expressing support for an armed struggle of an enemy state or of a terrorist organization against the State of Israel; (2) expressing support for a terrorist act or a terrorist organization; (3) Waving a flag of an enemy state, a terrorist organization or the Palestinian Authority.”

For a first violation, a student will be suspended for “a period not less than 30 days.” A second offense will lead to the permanent removal of the student from the institution. Moreover, the student will be denied the right “to receive an academic degree in Israel or to have an academic degree recognized outside of Israel for a period of 5 years.”

The Association of University Heads—made up of the presidents, rectors, and administrators of Israel’s institutions of higher learning—came out against the bill.

“This is a problematic and dangerous bill—they want to turn the institutions [of higher education] into an arm of the Shin Bet,” the group said, referring to Israel’s internal security service.

The association also claimed the bill would damage the standing of Israeli educational institutions by justifying the arguments of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) groups, leading “to a wave of academic boycotts of the Israeli institutions throughout the world.”

Ariel Porat, president of Tel Aviv University, said: “The Palestinian Authority is not an enemy state and is not a terrorist organization. Flying its flag is an action covered under the protection of freedom of speech.

“If we enforce this law, we will probably have to remove a significant portion of our students from the university, who rightly will not put up with such oppression and will not hesitate to wave the flag of the Palestinian Authority,” he added.

Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara also opposed the bill. In a letter distributed to government members, she said that the bill raises “real constitutional difficulties,” listing infringements on the freedom of expression and protest, and freedom of occupation.

In a statement provided to JNS, Har-Melech said, “The bill I have proposed is necessary for the fight against terrorism, and the opposition of the left raises difficult questions about the ability of a democratic country to defend itself against a hostile neighbor deeply rooted within it.

“Unfortunately, we are dealing with a very alarming phenomenon, wherein the guise of freedom of expression, terror-supporting cells are rising within universities and do not refrain from inciting terror and violence from within the campuses themselves.

Knesset Member for the Otzma Yehudit Party Limor Son Har Melech, Nov. 14, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

“The opinion of the opposition implies giving a free hand to these terror cells to continue to incite against Israel. I call on the government to continue to promote this bill. I thank the legal department of the ‘Im Tirtzu’ movement for their assistance in formulating this important bill.”

Im Tirtzu is a pro-Zionist, largely student group with 20 branches on Israeli campuses.

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