Ben Gurion University Violates Student’s Freedom of Expression
In May of 2022, a rally was held at Ben-Gurion University to mark Nakba Day on behalf of the Hadash party’s student chapter. Opposite the rally was a counter demonstration held by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu. Watan Madi, a student and member of the Hadash chapter, spoke in Arabic at the rally, and among other things, quoted a sentence from a Mahmoud Darwish article on those who fell in the 1948 War, in which she used the Arabic word for “martyr.” Following a complaint submitted by Im Tirtzu, the university filed a disciplinary complaint against Madi for disobeying conditions established by the Dean of Students, including the prohibition of expressions of support for violence.
Two lecturers represented Madi in the disciplinary proceedings. They presented the opinions of a university lecturer and an expert on the Arabic language, who declared that the word “martyr” has several meanings, and refers to the “fallen” in the context at hand. The prosecution insisted that the conventional meaning of the word among Israeli society refers to suicide bombers, such that Madi’s word choice supported acts of violence. On October 20, 2022, she was convicted by a majority opinion.
On October 27, 2022, we appealed to the president and the rector of the university demanding the annulment of the disciplinary proceedings taken against Madi. ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, Attorney Dan Yakir, and Arab Minority Rights Unit Director, Attorney Gadir Nicola, claimed that the very filing of the complaint constitutes a grave violation of the student's freedom of expression, creating a chilling effect for the entire university community. They further argued that filing a complaint due to a sentence spoken in Arabic based on the alleged interpretation of a word’s meaning among Jewish society, is absurd, and even flawed due to its cultural and racial bias. They further noted that the filing of the complaint contradicts the Nazareth District Court’s rulings regarding the poet Dareen Tatour’s appeal, who referenced a similar text.
We also addressed the grave flaws in the proceedings initiated against the student, who was denied due process. This was evident in preventing the public from attending the hearing, although the decision wasn’t made behind closed doors; the legal representative who was present at the hearing and intervened on behalf of the prosecution, played an active role in conferring with the judges; the ruling did not specify the names of the judges; and a judge was added to the panel of judges who did not partake in the hearings and was appointed by an academic secretary, who lacked the authority to determine the panel’s composition.
Attorneys Yakir and Nicola, referenced previous cases in which the courts accepted our position in the proceedings we filed against Ben Gurion University for violating students’ freedom of expression. "These incidents took place over a decade ago," the petition notes. “We believed that this dark chapter had passed for good. In February of 2019, the university adopted new regulations for public and political activity, which adequately ensured students’ rights to freedom of expression and demonstration, according to its wording. This current case casts a dark shadow on the university's commitment to respect these basic rights."
The university's legal counsel did not accept our claims, and instructed us to raise them before the university's Student Disciplinary Court. Accordingly, on December 19, 2022, Attorney Dan Yakir submitted an appeal on Madi's behalf. In the appeal, we reiterated the claims regarding violation of freedom of expression and the chilling effect on the entire student community, and expanded upon the hearing’s flaws. We noted that the unusual and unprecedented accumulation of extremely grave flaws that caused the student prolonged legal proceedings and a wrongful conviction, should be annulled without rescheduling a hearing. We further claimed that this implies selective enforcement, as the participants of the counter-demonstration held in front of the event repeatedly violated the conditions established for the demonstration – yet a complaint was solely filed against Madi.
The appeal hearing took place on February 21, 2023. On February 28, 2023, the Disciplinary Court of Appeals accepted our claims regarding the grave flaws in the proceedings and sent the case back to trial court for a proper hearing. Yet on March 6, 2023, the academic secretariat announced that it had been decided not to resubmit the complaint, so as not to cause the student further delay of justice.