On October 10, 2023, the University of Haifa suspended several students who expressed pro-Palestinian sentiments on their social media accounts.
The incident occurred against the backdrop of a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that left over 1,000 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and more than 200 abducted, and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of mid-November, has reportedly killed more than 11,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campus across the world.
University of Haifa rector, Gur Elroy, claimed the suspended students had posted content in support of Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, and stated that their suspension was intended to protect the Haifa University community. There was no investigation prior to the suspensions. The length of the suspensions was unclear.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was suspended and received an eviction notice from the Department of Student Housing immediately after she published a pro-Palestinian post on her social media. The university reversed her eviction after Adalah, a legal center for Palestinians, submitted a letter to university authorities claiming they breached the students rights. Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, was suspended for posting in a messaging group a video of Ghassan Kanafani, who was a prominent author, journalist, and spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian-Marxist organization, in the 1960s. After the video was posted, a fellow student took a screenshot and sent it to university officials. Neither student was given prior notice of their suspension or the opportunity to defend themselves.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary suspension of students for nonviolently exercising their right to freedom of expression – conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. Higher education authorities have an obligation to ensure due process, transparency, and fairness when engaging in disciplinary action. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.