Israeli Academic Institutions Persecute Palestinian Students for Social Media Posts Amid Offensive on Gaza

Adalah is representing 74 Palestinian students, citizens of Israel, from 25 institutions facing disciplinary actions and punitive measures for alleged "support of terrorism." Adalah: Palestinian students are being targeted for expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza or even for sharing verses from the Holy Quran. Adalah and the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education have demanded an immediate halt to this practice.
Since 8 October 2023, Israeli universities and colleges have initiated an unprecedented number of disciplinary proceedings, suspensions, and even expulsions of Palestinian students, citizens of Israel, based on their private social media posts, often before any hearings take place. Additionally, they have demanded the immediate evacuation of some students from their dormitories. The academic institutions allege that the students’ posts violate the university's disciplinary regulations by either "supporting terrorism" or "sympathizing with terror organizations." The vast majority of these posts merely expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and\or quoted verses from the Holy Quran and religious prayers, actions well within the realm of freedom of expression.


These actions are part of a draconian crackdown on the free speech rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, which has been in effect since October 7. Read more in Adalah’s briefing paper: Crackdown on Freedom of Speech of Palestinian Citizens of Israel


Adalah is monitoring 89 cases and providing direct representation to 74 students in 25 Israeli universities and colleges facing disciplinary actions. Political far-right student groups at these schools targeted Palestinian students, lodging complaints against those whose posts they disapproved of, which subsequently led to the academic institutions taking severe actions.


The Minister of Education, Yoav Kish, publicly backed the disciplinary actions of academic institutions against Palestinian students. He issued a letter stating that the schools must “immediately suspend any student or employee who supports the barbaric terrorist acts currently experienced in the State of Israel” and that “In cases where there is indeed incitement, [you must] order a permanent expulsion.” 


    CLICK HERE to read an unofficial English translation of the Education Minister's letter


The Chairperson of the National Union of Israeli Students also issued a letter, in response to a letter by the Academia for Equality, stating that, "Since the beginning of the war, we have been and continue to be exposed to dozens of posts and comments expressing strong support for terrorism and incitement to terrorism. We will not stop until those students are immediately removed from the academy... At this juncture, I would like to commend Western countries such as Germany and France that have banned the waving of Palestinian flags, and I will act to ensure that this policy is also adopted in Israel.”


Many of the Israeli academic institutions also published official statements declaring that “there will be zero tolerance for “supporting terrorism” and have proceeded to suspend or expel students in a manner that targets Palestinian students, whose posts express their Palestinian identity or solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza.


Yesterday, 22 October 2023, Adalah  – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent urgent letters in its own name and on behalf of the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, to the rectors and presidents of the University of Haifa, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and the College of Management, all of which have taken extreme measures against their Palestinian students. In the letter, Adalah demanded an immediate halt to proceedings against these students, arguing that the actions of the universities and colleges infringe upon freedom of expression, access to higher education, and the principles of due process. In addition, Adalah argued that academic institutions have no legal authority to monitor and persecute students for their actions on their private social media accounts, actions that are outside the scope of their academic studies.


    CLICK HERE to read the letters [Hebrew]


Simultaneously, former Member of Knesset, Mr. Mohammad Barakeh, chairperson of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, addressed the rectors and presidents of these institutions urging them to uphold the freedom of political expression of all of their students and to fulfill their role as protectors of students’ rights to dignity,freedom, and due process particularly in times of crisis.


    CLICK HERE to read the  High Follow-Up Committee’s letter


In Adalah's letter, Adalah Attorneys Salam Irsheid and Adi Mansour argued that the sanctions taken by the Israeli higher education institutions against Palestinian students, citizens of Israel, constitute an unprecedented violation of their right to freedom of expression. Adalah further argued that universities and colleges, in many cases, have carried out rushed and unfair procedures that have resulted in the suspension or expulsion of students, without hearings, which flagrantly violate their due process rights. The universities and colleges deprived students of the opportunity to defend themselves against accusations, thereby infringing on their right to be heard.


These actions have created a chilling effect on students’ speech and have established a dangerous precedent whereby academic studies are conditioned by censorship that extends beyond the boundaries of educational institutions and into private spaces, specifically to students' private social media accounts, outside of the the context of their academic studies. Further, this takes place, while the universities are failing to uphold their expected role as protectors of their students’ freedom of expression and safety, as Palestinian students are subjected to extreme campaigns of slander and incitement on various platforms.


Finally, Adalah argued that the universities have imposed even stricter restrictions on freedom of speech than what is permitted under criminal law; censoring expression without any consideration as to its purpose, meaning, translation, context, and overall impact.


Adalah commented:


"These unlawful disciplinary measures enforced by Israeli academic institutions constitute a severe form of censorship that carries grave repercussions, conveying a clear message to Palestinian students attending Israeli institutions: they are not only unwelcome but also not allowed to voice themselves and their opinions, irrespective of how legitimate these opinions may be. The campaign of persecution against Palestinian students, citizens of Israel, instigated by right-wing organizations and backed by Israel's Ministry of Education, once again underscores that within the State of Israel, the protection of rights and democratic principles is exclusively afforded to Jewish-Israeli citizens. In these academic settings, Palestinian students are consistently labeled as 'enemies' and 'terrorists' and are treated as such, especially during times of conflict."


Head of the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education, Dr. Sharaf Hassan commented that:


“There is an assault with political motives organized by right-wing and racist entities to target Arab students and exert pressure on academic institutions to expel them, exploiting the current security situation in the country. We are witnessing a dangerous collusion of some academic institutions with this campaign. These institutions must play a more positive role, especially in these challenging circumstances experienced by both communities. These institutions are making a grave mistake, especially considering that alongside the systematic targeting of Arab students by these groups, there is a widespread campaign of incitement and racism by some Jewish students and lecturers, without accountability. We fear that these campaigns may lead to attacks and violence against Arab and democratic Jewish students and lecturers. We urge Arab students and lecturers to remain vigilant and cautious, especially in their online activities, and to seek legal consultation, given the racist and unjust persecution. We also call on academic institutions to cease cooperation with campaigns targeting Arab students and to actively combat incitement and racism, especially since the new academic year is set to begin in the coming weeks.”