ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Knesset advances bill banning Palestinian flags on university campuses

Proposal introduced by far-right lawmaker clears preliminary reading after being temporarily shelved following condemnations by universities and rights groups

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Israelis stage a protest at Tel Aviv University against a far-right bill to ban waving Palestinian flags on Israeli campuses, May 28, 2023. (Credit: Standing Together)
Israelis stage a protest at Tel Aviv University against a far-right bill to ban waving Palestinian flags on Israeli campuses, May 28, 2023. (Credit: Standing Together)

The Knesset on Wednesday voted to advance a government-backed bill that would bar waving Palestinian flags on Israeli university campuses.

Fifty-two lawmakers voted in favor, with 30 against, moving the bill past its preliminary reading. An additional three rounds of voting are required before it can become law.

The bill had been temporarily shelved by a government panel, after attracting widespread condemnation from university students and rights groups and opposition from the attorney general.

Introduced by far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, the bill would also institute campus bans on waving flags linked to terror organizations, as well as expressing support for terror groups, terrorism, or armed struggle by enemies of Israel.

Students caught violating the ban would be suspended for 30 days for a first violation, and then for subsequent violations would be blocked for five years from either receiving a degree in Israel or having a foreign degree recognized.

According to the bill, academic institutions must also expel students who belong to terror organizations or who are convicted of terror offenses. The latter would be blocked from receiving a degree in Israel or having a foreign degree recognized for 10 years.

The bill — which Son Har-Melech said was drafted along with the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization — is the latest in a longstanding fight over freedom of expression on Israeli campuses. Last year, then-opposition party Likud advanced a similar bill to block state-supported institutions, including public universities, from flying the Palestinian flag.

In its explanatory notes, Son Har-Melech’s bill states that “academic institutions have become a central platform for incitement in the State of Israel. At Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion and [Jerusalem’s] Hebrew University, students held explicit demonstrations in favor of an intifada [Palestinian armed uprising], and in some cases even explicitly made remarks in support of terrorists from terror organizations.”

It also states that some “students were arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorist attacks and some were even convicted, all without an appropriate response from the academic institutions.”

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

A number of university administrators have denounced the bill, with the Association of University Heads slamming the legislation as draconian and deleterious to freedom of speech.

In May, the Knesset advanced a separate bill that would create NIS 10,000 administrative fines for waving terrorist organization flags. The Palestinian flag, as the national flag of the Palestinian Authority, would not be subject to the penalty.

Neither bill would apply to the West Bank, where terrorist organization and Palestinian flags are routinely on display at university events.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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