SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 10, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Haifa

Region & Country:Western Asia | Israel

New or Ongoing:New Incident

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 Alroey, 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.

UPDATAE: In the weeks following the suspension, it became clear that the students were to be suspended until the end of disciplinary hearings. The hearings began approximately three weeks after the students’ initial suspension. Initially, the disciplinary committee canceled the students’ suspension, allowing them to return to campus while disciplinary proceedings continued. However on December 24, University of Haifa rector Alroey filed an urgent request to suspend all eight students until the end of disciplinary proceedings, claiming their presence on campus could cause “extreme situations” that “demand appropriate actions to prevent disastrous results.” The disciplinary committee approved Alroey’s request, ruling that the presence of students who have been accused of incitement could cause harm to campus climate.

On January 6, 2024 the hearing committee again reversed the students’ suspension after Adalah, a legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, appealed the decision on behalf of the students. The students were allowed to return to campus, and the university has agreed to mediation.

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.