Students at the University of Haifa held a silent demonstration on Thursday in memory of assassinated Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari, angering Israel supporters and local officials.
The silent rally came a day after Jabari was killed by Israeli forces at the start of an offensive against Hamas to stop rocket fire on the south of Israel. The operation, dubbed Pillar of Defense, touched off a barrage of missiles from Gaza amid threats of a wider ground incursion by Israel.
The protesters, most of whom were Arab-Israelis, did not wave flags or banners, nor did they chant slogans.
Ronit Moskowitz, a student at the University of Haifa, told Globes that one of the demonstrators told her that the silent 20-minute vigil was “in memory of our chief of staff.”
Moskowitz said that Jewish students responded to the vigil by singing “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. The original demonstration dispersed, and while the Jewish students were still singing “Hatikva,” campus security arrived to inform the Jewish students that they were not allowed to demonstrate on campus and threatened to bring them to a disciplinary board
“They stood there for 20 minutes and nobody approached them. They have the right and we don’t?” Moskowitz asked.
In response, the university said in a statement that it supported “the IDF soldiers as they protect the State of Israel,” as well as sending condolences to the families of the three civilians killed on Thursday morning in Kiryat Malachi.
The statement added that the university administration has taken, and will continue to take, every step legally at its disposal to prevent any provocation on the campus. “A small number of Arab students gathered. When Jewish students gathered in front of them, the incident ended after a few minutes.”
Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav sent a letter to the president of the university calling on the administration to use all means necessary to prevent negative extremist elements from spreading malicious propaganda within the university’s walls.
Yahav expressed outrage over the morning’s silent vigil, saying that “it is not in the spirit of Haifa, which seeks co-existence, tolerance and dialogue.” While he lauded the atmosphere of democracy and freedom of expression, he warned that the “cynical exploitation of this natural right to promote the teachings of terrorist organizations that exalt the murder of children and innocent civilians, crosses the boundaries of humanity.”
According to the Egyptian news site Bikya Masr, some 200 Jewish and Arab students demonstrated on Thursday at Tel Aviv University to protest Operation Pillar of Defense, which was launched on Wednesday.
At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a rally against Operation Pillar of Defense was overwhelmed by a larger counter-rally supporting Israel’s right to defend the citizens of the south.
Activists from the left-wing Meretz party and the Arab-Jewish Hadash party planned to hold a rally on Thursday evening in Tel Aviv, and a silent vigil, similar to the held at the University of Haifa, in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
In a statement released on Thursday, Meretz called on the government to end the operation and to reach a long-term cease fire with Hamas to be mediated by international forces. “Our hearts are with the people of the south and it is the government’s responsibility to protect them. But as long as the government prefers assassinations to dialogue, and war to true efforts for peace, then the south is condemned to suffering and terror, and Israel is condemned to never-ending war,” it said.