Knesset legal adviser strikes down motion to outlaw Nakba Day events at universities

In an extraordinary move, Eyal Yinon prevents MKs from introducing the bill

Students marking Nakba Day at Tel Aviv University in 2008. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Students marking Nakba Day at Tel Aviv University in 2008. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon took the unusual step Tuesday of preventing MKs from introducing a bill that would make holding Nakba Day events at universities illegal, or even a criminal offense. Yinon called the motion unconstitutional and undemocratic, and said it would shatter the country’s social foundation.

In his letter to 30 MKs who supported the motion, including Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu), the bill’s main sponsor, Yinon wrote that his unusual move was in response to the exceptional nature of the proposal as well as the fact that a large number of MKs had signed on.

Miller, who heads the Knesset’s Education Committee, called allowing such events at universities “a dangerous precedent.”

The proposal aimed to give the the education minister the power to dismantle an institution that allowed such events to take place. It also sought to prohibit a range of Nakba day events — demonstrations, rallies, and other public events — even making them criminal offenses.

Meanwhile, Yinon issued a different response to the High Court of Justice on a separate Nakba Day motion put forward by MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) which sought to make public institutions stand to lose funding if they publicly denied Nakba Day as a “real historical event.”

The two motions come after Nakba Day events at Tel Aviv University on May 14, in which hundreds of students marked the “nakba” (“catastrophe”) of the Palestinians associated with the founding of Israel in 1948. The university’s decision to allow the ceremony caused an uproar on campus and in the Knesset.

The Knesset Education Committee held a hearing on the topic the same day which escalated to the point of name-calling and insults.

Tibi referred to the Palestinians who had lost their lives due to conflict with Israel as “martyrs” and was then verbally attacked by MK Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beytenu) and MK Miri Regev (Likud), who accused Tibi and other Arab MKs of partnering with the “terrorists” who seek to incite Israel.

After the hearing, MK Danny Danon (Likud) called the Nakba Day events that transpired at Tel Aviv University “a disgrace for the State of Israel,” adding: “We need to make it clear: An institution that hosts terrorists [sic] and incites Israel should lose its funding. I call on the Treasury to use the motion we passed in the Knesset to take away the funding from Tel Aviv University in light of the Nakba Day events we saw today.”

However, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said any attempt to restrict freedom of speech would be “a dangerous slippery slope,” noting that freedom of speech on university campuses was crucial in a democracy.

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