Photo: Hoshvilim/Wikimedia Commons

CAMERA’s Israel campus advisor Eitan Fischberger

An Arab-Israeli student praising normalization between Israel and the Arab world? Heaven forbid, according to some hostile students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Abraham Accords signed last month by Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have been widely lauded by the international community for upending conventional wisdom about Middle East problem-solving and for being the first tangible step toward regional peace in 25 years.

Many Arab citizens of Israel were likewise enthusiastic about the agreement, including Fouad (last name withheld for safety reasons), a student at the Hebrew University. Fouad, who also works in the Office of the President of Israel, was subjected to vile harassment by hordes of keyboard warriors, some of whom were students at the university, after he transgressed a “terrible taboo” and praised the accords.

Indeed, at the behest of the university itself, Fouad was featured in a 45-second video commending the Abraham Accords and calling for academic cooperation between the three countries.

Immediately upon publishing the video to the university’s Facebook page, numerous comments were posted by fellow Arab-Israeli students, some labeling him a traitor, anti-Palestinian, and using explicit language that isn’t fit to print. Even a teaching assistant at the university chimed in, writing, “I don’t understand who lets a guy from Tamra [city in Israel] to go out and talk like that. A breathtaking sight this morning. Really shameful, really really shameful.”

All this would be terrible enough, but simply par for the course in our increasingly aggressive political climate, especially on social media. However, once Fouad noticed a threatening comment and began receiving private threats directed at him and his family, he requested that the university remove the video from its page. Needless to say, the administration acquiesced.

Although Fouad was targeted by these reprehensible individuals, it’s still unclear why exactly they were so riled up. Was it due to Fouad inviting academics from the UAE and Bahrain to cooperate with an Israeli institution? Were they opposing the normalization itself? Perhaps they were upset that Fouad proudly supported peace with Israel, and that doesn’t jive with the alleged narrative that all Arab-Israelis loathe Israel’s existence. We might never know.

According to Fouad, what was particularly disheartening about the entire ordeal was the fact that since he enrolled at Hebrew University, he has devoted himself to integrating east Jerusalem Arabs into the school through his work with the marketing department, advising incoming students and volunteering as a tutor.

“All Hebrew University students deserve the right to freely voice their opinions, and not be tormented because of them.”

“I just don’t understand how people can be so full of hate,” Fouad stated. “I was stunned by the number of extreme comments directed at me, which clearly stems from a deep cultural decay. This is the greatest threat to peace.”

After repeated inquiries, a spokesperson for the university responded (translated from Hebrew): “The student was filmed for the video voluntarily and enthusiastically, and even signed a form of consent to film him and use the video. As occurs with any politically oriented video, this video garnered both positive and negative comments. University officials followed the comments section and were in constant communication with the student in question. Among the negative comments, one was threatening in nature. After receiving the comment, as per the student’s request, the post and the video were removed from social media in order to ‘quell the flames’ and for the sake of the student’s security.”

The response from the administration failed to condemn the harassment Fouad endured. It essentially justified the harassment as typical political taunting, did not address the intimidating comment put forth by the teaching assistant at the administration’s own university, or even reaffirm the right of Arab students to voice their opinions freely without fear of reprisal.

The response – inadequate as it is – was made even weaker by the fact that Hebrew University would not add a condemnation to its statement when I encouraged it to do so. This debacle signals to pro-peace students that they cannot depend on Hebrew University to defend them in the face of violent threats and intimidation. Even worse, it signals to other students that they have free rein to harass their peers.

All Hebrew University students deserve the right to freely voice their opinions, and not be tormented because of them. When students are harassed or threatened because of their opinions, universities must issue swift condemnations and discipline the students or staff members involved. Israeli universities need to ensure that they cultivate an environment encouraging freedom of expression, especially for students from the Arab-Israeli community who have the chutzpah – and if this incident is any indication, courage – to speak up on behalf of peace.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

Contributed by CAMERA’s Israel campus advisor Eitan Fischberger.

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