Following right-wing attacks, museum seeks to cancel ‘Right of Return Conference’

Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum has been under increasing pressure to cancel Zochrot’s second international conference. Recently, the museum presented new conditions to the organizers, including paying for increased security and changing the wording on the event invitation.

Following right-wing attacks, museum seeks to cancel 'Right of Return Conference'
Palestinian student speaks at a Nakba commemoration event outside Tel Aviv University, May 2013. The Israeli right has been trying to ban any mention of the Nakba in recent years – even in the Palestinian school system (photo:

An international conference by Zochrot, an Israeli NGO which focuses on the Nakba and the “right of return,” is under threat, following pressure from right-wing organizations.

The Eretz Israel Museum, where Zochrot decided to host the event, has recently informed organizers that due to the risk of demonstrations and public disorder, they will need to pay for increased, onsite security. The museum management has also demanded that the name “Al-Shaykh Muwannis” mentioned next to the museum’s name in the event invitations be removed.

“Al-Shaykh Muwannis” is a Palestinian village that was located in what is today’s north Tel Aviv, and which stood where the museum and the Tel Aviv University are currently located.

The conference, titled “From Truth to Redress” is due to take place on September 29-30. The museum has informed Zochrot that the event will be canceled, should the organization not meet the new requirements. In response, Attorney Michael Sfard sent a letter on behalf of Zochrot to the museum, stating that backing away from the agreement would be “an illegal act” and “would constitute intellectual and ideological discrimination.”

Following right-wing attacks, museum seeks to cancel 'Right of Return Conference'
Invitation to the Zochrot conference on the Nakba and the Right of Return in Tel Aviv

The introduction to the Zochrot Conference states:

This year, Zochrot will hold its second international, multidisciplinary conference to discuss practical aspects of the Return of Palestinian refugees grounded in the transitional justice principles of acknowledgement, accountability and a joint Jewish-Palestinian process of redress.

The issues discussed in this conference will focus on the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other. The conference will discuss the key question of whether there is a single path to realizing Return.

Israeli right-wing groups have focused their efforts in recent years on banning any mention of the Nakba in the public discourse. Among other things, they have attempted to cancel history classes in universities which refer to the Nakba, and in 2009, then Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar renewed the ban on any mention of the Nakba in history books taught at Palestinian schools. A law passed by the Knesset in 2011 and approved by the Supreme Court allowed the finance minister to withhold budgets from state-supported institutions – museums and universities among them – which hold activities that mourn the events that led to the establishing of the state or that object to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Right-wing groups, among them Im Tirzu, have urged Finance Minister Yair Lapid to withraw public funding form the Eretz Yisrael Museum if it allows Zochrot to hold its conference.

Zochrot General Director Liat Rosenberg said in a statement: “In presenting its new demands, the Eretz Israel Museum is caving in to political coercion, threats and bullying by anti-democratic forces intent on delivering a fatal blow to freedom of speech. Violent attempts at silencing by those who would rather not see or hear are encouraged by the museum’s actions. By intervening in the contents of the invitation and imposing financial sanctions against the NGO, the museum has become their mouthpiece. Nevertheless, these recent attempts at censoring, silencing, and otherwise removing from the agenda the call for the return of Palestinian refugees and the Israeli public’s responsibility for redressing this ongoing historical injustice – are bound to fail.”

Last year, the police prevented Zochrot activists from distributing leaflets on the Israeli Independence Day.

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