Amid Protests, Govt Postpones Discussing Bill to Ban Palestinian Flags in Universities

Israel’s ministerial committee on legislation postponed on Sunday a discussion on a new bill that would deny academic degrees to anyone displaying a Palestinian flag, following opposition from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Hadash students and university chiefs.

The proposal for the law, put forward by the racist 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.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has called on Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs to oppose the bill that would and decried it as infringing on freedom of expression and going against “basic principles of democracy.”

Before the panel met on Sunday, Hadash students took to campuses in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Beersheba to protest, with Palestinian flags in hand. According to Hadash students, “The Palestinian flag is the flag of an entire people, millions who live in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel. People have a right to a national belonging, identity and freedom of speech. We will fight for these rights and we will not let the bill pass without struggle”.

In a statement, the Hebrew University’s senate gave three reasons for their opposition to this bill: Firstly, they stipulated that Israeli higher education institutions shouldn’t be responsible for enforcing restrictions on freedom of expression, but rather it should be done by police and the courts. Universities, the senate said, aren’t qualified to deal with whether a student’s statements constituted a breach of free speech and instead could be inferred as supporting terrorism. “Enforcement of criminal prohibitions is a matter for the police and the prosecution and the courts,” the university statement read.

Hadash students stage a protest at Tel Aviv University against a far-right bill to ban waving Palestinian flags on Israeli campuses, among them MK Ofer Cassif, May 28, 2023. (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Secondly, they said, the bill’s prohibitions are far more extensive than those in the anti-terrorism law. The Senate explained that there is “no reason” for an action or statement that would be legal outside of a university campus to suddenly become illegal, and therefore warrant a severe punishment like a fine or jail sentence, just because it happened to have taken place inside a campus. Lastly, the university argued, waving a Palestinian flag does not necessarily indicate that one supports terrorism. Rather, it could be used to either express one’s own Palestinian national identity or to express support for the idea of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. “The statement that waving the flag necessarily expresses support for terrorism is factually incorrect and causes an unconstitutional violation of freedom of expression,” the letter stressed.

Another piece of controversial legislation pulled by the far-right government on Sunday the law banning NGOs from contributing to Palestinian and Israeli causes following international condemnation. It was proposed by a member of the ruling Likud Party and was aimed at preventing primarily European non-profits from funding Palestinian projects and Israeli human rights activism. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision was criticized by members of his own party who said he buckled to foreign pressure.

A proposed government resolution advanced by the Otzma Yehudit party to assert “Zionist values”, according the Nation-State Law, in government policy — which, if approved, could give the Jewish population preferential treatment for housing planning, social rights and construction — was also pushed off, although for how long remains to be seen.