The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Students protest 'racist' conference

A group of Arab and Jewish students gathered Tuesday morning to protest an academic conference entitled "Israel's demographic problem and demographic policy" outside the University of Haifa's Reuven Hecht Auditorium.

According to Fadi Abu Yunis, chair of the Union of Arab Students in Israel and one of the organizers of the protest, the discourse the conference was based on "talks about the demographic problem that Arabs constitute for a Jewish majority, and presents Arabs as a problem."

"If you look at the other side of the coin," he told The Jerusalem Post, "you could talk about Jews being a demographic problem for Arabs, but we don't think in these terms, and we consider this racist terminology." Abu Yunis said that given the current state of affairs in the country, he did not believe such a demographic discourse belongs within the walls of the institution or in society at large.

According to Abu Yunis, approximately 40-50 students convened holding signs reading "Fascism won't be tolerated," and "racism won't pass." The protesters also attempted to distribute "certificates" to conference-goers that read "certified racist." Abu Yunis reported "violence towards demonstrators, particularly women demonstrators," which consisted of attempts by university security personnel to take away their signs forcefully and to prevent them from entering the conference hall.

According to the university's spokesperson, approximately 15 people gathered at the entrance to the auditorium to protest, and left quietly after a short time. The university claimed that no violence was exercised by its security personnel, and expressed dismay at the publication of "unconfirmed reports of the use of force."

Hebrew University Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, one of the speakers at the conference, told the Post that the claims made by the protesters are not justified. "Demography is an accepted academic discipline worldwide, even though it is sometimes politically charged," he said, adding that those who questioned its legitimacy were exercising a totalitarian approach to academic discussion and debates on any subject.

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