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Finance minister seeks to penalize Ben-Gurion University for pro-Palestinian rally

Liberman says looking at cutting school budget over event Monday that he says included calls rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish, democratic state

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting of his Ysrael Beytenu party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting of his Ysrael Beytenu party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday he was looking at reducing the budget for Ben-Gurion Univesity of the Negev after it allowed a pro-Palestinian event on campus that marked Nakba Day, when Palestinians lament the establishment of the State of Israel.

“At a rally held at Ben Gurion University things were said and done that reject the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” tweeted Liberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party.

The minister said he had given instructions “to examine the conduct of the university in order to exercise my authority to reduce its budget.”

Sources close to Liberman told the Ynet website that at the rally speeches were made that marked the establishment of Israel as a “day of mourning,” rejected Israel’s existence as a democratic Jewish state, and backed armed resistance against the country.

The sources said that expressing such sentiments is “apparently against the law.”

On Monday, university students held a pro-Palestinian rally on the campus in the southern city of Beersheba, waving Palestinian flags and singing nationalist songs after being prevented from holding a protest on Nakba Day itself, last week.

Pro-Israel students set up a counter-demonstration opposite the rally and the two sides were kept separate by barriers, police and security personnel.

Israeli and pro-Palestinian students stage protests at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on May 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, a member of the right-wing New Hope party, said Monday, “The images we saw this morning are unbelievable.”

She said the Council for Higher Education, which oversees Israel’s universities and colleges, would examine the rally as potential incitement.

Ruvik Danilovich, the mayor of Beersheba, slammed the pro-Palestinian event, writing in a letter to university president Daniel Chamovitz that it was “a disgrace.”

The university responded with a statement noting that International Diversity Day was marked two days earlier and that the events showed that students from all over Israeli society at the campus are able to “hold a variety of opinions and views.”

The campus, it said, is “a meeting point” for people and new ideas, and therefore administrators allowed “two political gatherings with opposing views.”

Two weeks ago, a small group at Ben-Gurion University gathered to protest the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin. They quickly dispersed when other students began to form a counter-rally.

The group sought to hold a protest to mark Nakba Day, but were asked to delay it until Monday, the organizers told The Times of Israel.

On Monday, the organizers stressed that the event was not a “protest,” but rather an “assembly” for Nakba Day. They said it was the first such gathering on the campus grounds, and they plan to hold a similar rally every year, subject to approval by the university.

Palestinians call Israel’s founding in 1948 the Nakba, an Arabic word for catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the War of Independence as the nascent Jewish state fought for its survival.

Rallies are held every year on May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Israelis celebrate their state’s establishment on the Hebrew date, which shifts from year to year according to the Jewish calendar.

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