A debate set for Monday between MK Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid) and Muhammad al-Habbash, a chief aide to Mahmoud Abbas, has been cancelled, Hebrew University said in a statement Monday.
“In light of new developments, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Truman Institute for Peace has been forced to cancel the public meeting today between Dr. Mahmoud al-Habbash, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Member of Knesset Ofer Shelach,” the statement said. “This follows notification from Palestinian Authority officials that their highest security echelons had received information about threats to Dr. al-Habbash’s life, and therefore they would not allow him to attend the meeting, where he was slated to discuss topics including the stalled political process and the security situation.”
Habbash has been accused of being a primary source of anti-Israel incitement, making what many Israelis consider to be very incendiary remarks over the years; for example, after the kidnapping and murder of Israeli teens Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d, in June 2014, Habash said that Israel “had used the kidnapping to act violently against Palestinians.” In another statement, Habbash said that terrorists in Israeli prisons “are there for defending their homeland, for defending their honor. They are freedom fighters, they are not criminals. They have committed no crime except to defend themselves.”
Habbash and Shelach, according to the invitation that was distributed to students, were set to “discuss the relevant issues of the day, including the terror wave, the ‘loner intifada’ that Israel is facing, the ‘martyr children’ who are perpetrating these attacks, the tunnels from Gaza, the growth of ISIS in the Middle East, the rise of radical Islam, the Israel-Palestinian situation, the peace talks, and more. For the first time – direct from the Muqata! – the top aide to Mahmoud Abbas will discuss these matters with MK Ofer Shelach.”
Students who posted the invitation on social media slammed the event, with many questioning why the university “would invite a terror supporter. “Have you gone crazy?,” wrote one, with another writing “I respect MK Shelach, but I do not believe the university should be providing a platform to a terrorist, who does not even represent the Palestinian people. I think Ofer Shelach must withdraw from this event.”
The Hebrew University statement quoted Prof. Menachem Blondheim, Director of the Institute, as saying that “we regret that dialogue was once again prevented, and that we who are engaged in the important work of advancing peace were not able to continue and carry out this important mandate.”
According to the statement, “The Truman Institute did not give in to pressure during the past week to cancel the event, but rather canceled it today following the notification from the Palestinian Authority.”
The statement did not say who was threatening Habbash or what the nature of those threats were. Many Hebrew University students had signed petitions against his appearance. Right-wing group Im Tirtzu said that it was “shocking that the university would be turned into a stage for any possible type of speech, regardless of how badly it hurts the feelings of law-abiding students who serve in the IDF, as well as those who are terror victims or relatives of victims.”