The authorities across Israel’s universities have condemned a bill that would ban flying the flag of Palestine anywhere in Israel, including in academic institutions, reported The Times of Israel.
In a letter published yesterday, the Committee of University Heads criticised the bill, that passed a preliminary reading last week as an attempt “to turn academic institutions into branches of the Israeli Police and the Shin Bet, forcing them to track hundreds of thousands of students on their premises, and to impose punishments on actions that currently are mostly protected by freedom of speech laws.”
“This is politicisation and deep and unreasonable intervention in campus activities. An attempt to use academia for criminal enforcement, turning the institution managers into cops, judges and even executioners – when dealing with offences that have nothing to do with academia,” the university heads added.
The proposal for the law, put forward by the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, stipulates that three or more people waving the flag of a “hostile entity” will be considered a crime and, therefore, punishable by up to one year in prison.
According to Haaretz, the bill, which requires three additional votes to pass, will also enable Israel authorities to criminalise and disband protests held by Palestinians.
In a separate statement, the President of Tel Aviv University, Ariel Porat, slammed the proposal as “fascist” and said he will not follow the law’s clause ordering the permanent expulsion of students who display the Palestinian flag.
He wrote: “The Palestinian Authority is not an enemy state and is not a terror organisation. Waving the Palestinian flag is an act that is protected under freedom of expression. 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.”
The bill comes after Israel’s Knesset parliament passed the preliminary reading of a controversial bill last year that would ban flying the Palestinian flag in state-funded institutions.
It also comes after Israeli settlers staged the flag march through Jerusalem’s Old City last week to mark what they call the unification of Jerusalem, in reference to Israel’s occupation of the city in 1967.
The letter, which was sent to members of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, is set to be discussed in the cabinet meeting on Sunday.