NYU Abu Dhabi Student Who Yelled ‘Free Palestine’ Reportedly Deported

AMMAN, Jordan (AP/Hamodia) — At the graduation ceremony of New York University Abu Dhabi this May, a student wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh shouted “Free Palestine!” as he crossed the stage to receive his diploma, witnesses say. Days later, he reportedly was deported from the United Arab Emirates.

The incident at the graduation comes as the UAE tries to balance its diplomatic recognition of Israel with the ongoing war in Gaza. While offering aid to the Palestinians, there have been none of the mass demonstrations that swept the Arab world in the UAE, a federation of seven emirates that has laws governing speech and where political parties are illegal.

That’s stretched into academic life at NYU Abu Dhabi, where students say activities over the war have been barred, and into cultural events in the country’s capital as well where those wearing the keffiyeh have been stopped from entering.

“I think the government and the laws of the country don’t necessarily align with wanting to create an environment that appeals to the West as well, if we’re talking about freedom of speech and so on,” said one student, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Responding to questions from The Associated Press, NYU Abu Dhabi said it has been “guaranteed academic authority” on campus but that “in none of our locations … are members of the NYU community immune from local law.”

“NYU has no authority over any nation’s immigration or law enforcement actions or decisions,” the school said. It added it advised students “clearly and repeatedly about expectations, obligations, and boundaries, including the protocols for the NYU Abu Dhabi graduation.”

Before the graduation ceremony, students had been told that “displaying the Palestinian flag anywhere on campus is not permitted and this was strictly executed, even in residential buildings,” said another student, who similarly spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Jacqueline Hennecke, an NYU Abu Dhabi alumni who graduated in May, told the AP that the university sent an email prior to graduation banning all “cultural attire” at the commencement — including scarves. The student who disregarded the order and yelled “Free Palestine!” on stage ultimately found himself in police custody prior to his deportation, according to the American Association of University Professors.

NYU Abu Dhabi’s actions come as the UAE maintains its diplomatic ties with Israel, which runs both a consulate in Dubai and an embassy out of Abu Dhabi. Daily flights to Israel have also gone on even as Western airlines were slow to resume flights to Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv. Security officials closely monitored pro-Palestinian demonstrations when Dubai hosted the U.N. COP28 climate talks in November, which the UAE had to allow in the U.N.-controlled “Blue Zone” at the event.

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