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Israeli Minister Bans Art By Students Protesting Violence in Gaza

Israel’s science, technology, and space minister, Ofir Akunis, has banned artworks by students at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design from being shown at an international science conference taking place this month in Jerusalem after some students expressed solidarity with the Palestinians demonstrating at the Gaza border, according to Haaretz.

More than sixty protestors were slain by Israeli soldiers this week when tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered near the border. The students at the Jerusalem academy hung posters at their school on Wednesday listing the names of those killed, alongside a map of the Gaza Strip featuring the words “I’m not your toy,” an allusion to Eurovision Song Contest winner “Toy” by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai.

“I am always in favor of freedom of speech, but I won’t enable freedom of humiliation,” Akunis said in an explanation of his decision. “Even Hamas has announced that those killed on the Gaza border are its members, meaning terrorists.” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat also expressed dismay toward the display, taking to Twitter to say that he was “shocked to see the names of terrorists who assaulted the Gaza–Israel border with the goal of killing Jews displayed on the walls of the Bezalel Academy.”

In response, the Bezalel Academy put out its own statement, defending the school’s role as “a protected space for freedom of expression in Israel that permits students free, critical and creative discourse on the range of subjects occupying them.” Hours after the initial installation, other Bezalel students countered with their own display of posters bearing the names of Jews killed in terrorist attacks.  

Bezalel Academy was previously entangled in a free speech controversy in December 2016, when a student made a poster of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s face behind a noose. The school demanded the poster be removed, and an investigation into the matter was launched.

The three-day international science conference is slated to open in a week and a half, and will be attended by science ministers from around the world. The conference aspires to present work by international design students, as well as by students from a variety of Israeli schools, although Bezalel Academy will no longer be represented at the event.