Are Israeli Universities Critics of or Collaborators with the Israeli Government?

1 Jan

Critics of the ASA academic boycott often claim that the boycott is illegitimate because it targets Israeli universities, which are the site of some of the greatest criticism of the Israeli government and support for the Palestinian cause. As prominent scholar and former ASA president Shelley Fisher Fishkin said:

Israeli universities are often at the forefront of fostering dialogue between Arabs and Jews, of educating the future leaders of Arab universities, and of providing the next generation with the tools of critical thinking that can allow them to construct a society more equitable and just than that of their parents.

It’s a little more complicated.

Here are just some of the facts about the Israeli academy that Fishkin failed to note but which eight professors in Indiana emphasized in their letter to the presidents of Purdue and Indiana University.

  1. Israeli universities, like Hebrew University, have illegally built parts of their campuses in the occupied territories.
  2. 20% of the Israeli population is Palestinian, yet only 11% of university students are Palestinian. (In the US, by contrast, which is no picnic for African Americans, the black population is 13.1%, while the black student population in universities is 14%.) Palestinian applicants to Israeli universities are three times more likely to be rejected than Jewish applicants. 32% of Jewish applicants meeting minimal requirements are accepted into Israeli universities, while only 19% of Palestinian students meeting those requirements are accepted.
  3. 20% of the Israeli population is Palestinian, yet only 1% of the university staff is Palestinian.
  4. In 2008, a petition for academic freedom in the occupied territories was sent to about 9,000 Israeli academics. It was signed by 407 professors, about 4.5% of the total.

In the United States, professors have a reputation for being far more radical than they are. Seems like the same may be true in Israel.

24 Responses to “Are Israeli Universities Critics of or Collaborators with the Israeli Government?”

  1. Mitchell Plitnick January 1, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Somehow, this seems to miss the point, with all due respect. I think your closing sentence sums this up pretty well, Prof. Robin: “In the United States, professors have a reputation for being far more radical than they are. Seems like the same may be true in Israel.”
    With the exception of point one, US and the academic culture of many other countries would be similar to Israel’s in these matters, and frankly, I think point one is only an exception due to circumstance.
    Fishkin’s points fails because it is irrelevant to the boycott issue. The ASA decision is not trying to punish the perpetrators of occupation, but to address the occupation using the tools available to civil society. Indeed, as you have pointed out, the ASA boycott is carefully crafted so as to minimize the effect on individual scholars in and out of Israel.
    The fact that the university system in Israel is part of institutional Israel is axiomatic and THAT is the problem with Fisher’s point, a point echoed by so many others. But in this regard, Israeli academia is no different than just about any other Western academia.
    Fishkin’s points are silly, no doubt. But the answer is not to show how Israeli academia is part of the Israeli establishment, but rather to point out that US citizens and institutions who want to address the occupation and apartheid policies of Israel know their government won’t do it and that very few avenues are open to them to do anything about it. Boycotts and divestment are just about the only steps people can take to try to make a difference, which is precisely why defenders of Israel, including those who want to see the occupation magically ended without any pressure being put on Israel (which, perhaps is a group that includes Fishkin) are reacting so hysterically to it–it is one of exceedingly few avenues they have not yet managed to cut off for people to act in non-violent yet impactful ways.
    That is the real response to Fishkin’s fallacious point.

    Mitchell Plitnick
    Former Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem
    http://mitchellplitnick.com

    • Malcolm Schosha January 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      Mitchell Plitnick wrote: “Boycotts and divestment are just about the only steps people can take to try to make a difference, which is precisely why defenders of Israel, including those who want to see the occupation magically ended without any pressure being put on Israel (which, perhaps is a group that includes Fishkin) are reacting so hysterically to it–it is one of exceedingly few avenues they have not yet managed to cut off for people to act in non-violent yet impactful ways.”

      The “hysterically” reaction (if that is the correct word for it) is probably because the attempt to isolate Israel through boycotts brings associations with it of the Nazi boycott of Jews in Germany starting in 1933. In other words, it seems that it may really by just a New Antisemitism.

      Is that assessment incorrect? Perhaps. The Europeans seem convinced by the BDS argument. But European historic treatment of Jews is so extremely vicious that the Moslem historic vicious treatment of Jews seems almost benign by comparison. In other words, the Europeans have no moral authority on this issue.

      In the United States, the situation is different, and the public here does not accept the BDS foundational assumption that Israel inherently violates the rights of its Arab citizens. The BDS boycott is a call for action against Israel, and the majority here thinks BDS as on the wrong side of the issue, and as fundamentally unjust. Recent polling shows Americans support for Israel is at an all time high

      The college graduate elite in the US may now be closer to the European view than the rest of the US population. But college students tend to be gutless apple polishers, and are easily influence by pressure from the few pushy professors who hate Israel and want to see it destroyed.

  2. BillR January 2, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    One percent of professors it Italy refused to take the Fascist oath when their jobs were on the line:

    …[L]ast week 1,138 of Italy’s 1,225 school teachers and college professors took the oath of allegiance to the Fascist regime now required by Italian law. A few older men stood by their principles. One little group of twelve professors gave up their posts rather than swear.

    Excerpt from diary of a German Jewish professor on what used to be called “The Treason of the Learned”:

    If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.

    • BillR January 2, 2014 at 12:34 am #

      Another excerpt from Victor Klemperer’s diary:

      We hear a lot about Palestine now; it does not appeal to us. Anyone who goes there exchanges nationalism and narrowness for nationalism and narrowness.

  3. Rahim Kurwa January 2, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    I think there are three levels of complicity worth commenting on: 1) a legal structure of discrimination that academic institutions comply with, 2) individual acts of discrimination or support for occupation that institutions choose on their own to engage in, and 3) intellectual contributions to the violation of Palestinian rights.

    1) On the state-initiated legal side, the key issue is the Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law, which gives extensive benefit packages including tuition subsidies, free and preferential access to housing, etc, on the basis of military service or residency in a priority area. The military service clause is clearly a work around to give these benefits to anyone but the Palestinians. Basically every academic institution complies with this law, and I have seen little protest or resistance to it. Though they might claim that its not something they can change, the examples of further oppressive behavior show that even if they could change this law, its no guarantee that they would, because many of the independent discriminatory acts by universities use the same mechanism (military service) as a way to exclude Palestinians. I would also recommend Adalah’s Inequality report which has much more detail on the legal discrimination applied to Palestinian students.

    2) Here are some examples of open discrimination by academic institutions acting of their own volition:

    A few years ago the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa closed its accounting major because, as one of its leaders was recorded saying, there were too many Arabs enrolling. (http://www.usacbi.org/2009/06/the-carmel-academic-center-in-haifa-closes-academic-track-as-too-many-palestinian-students-registered/)

    Haifa University conditioned living in the dorms on military service (can you imagine this in the US?), and was allowed to despite the clear disparate impact this has on Palestinian students. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/court-allows-haifa-university-to-continue-contentious-dorm-policy-1.217810)

    In 2007, Tel Aviv University’s medical school created high age restrictions for student enrollment, which does not affect Jewish students who spend the intervening time doing required military service, but which bans Palestinians students who do not serve in the army from enrolling. Instead, they are forced to either waste the intervening years, or go abroad for medical school. (http://electronicintifada.net/content/israeli-universitys-age-restrictions-discriminates-against-arab-students/3169)

    Lastly, the Israeli Ministry of Health excludes Palestinian graduates from Al-Quds university medical school by ruling that they are neither Israeli, nor foreign, and therefore do not fit any of the categories of candidates who can sit for the qualifying exam. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/palestinian-medical-school-grads-protest-exclusion-from-israeli-hospitals.premium-1.526920)

    In most of these cases, the university uses military service as a proxy for race, creating a disparate impact that effectively excludes Palestinians without openly saying so.

    The creation of Arial College, built on a settlement in the West Bank, is another example. However, it straddles the line between something supported and initiated by the government and something aided and abetted by the academy (though some do protest it).

    There are also many examples of military research connections between the universities and the state. The list is quite long, but Technion is a perfectly good case study: http://nyact.net/links/about-the-technion/

    3. An example of the academy’s ideological support for violations of international law is the Dahiya doctrine. This doctrine was developed at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. It calls for the wholesale flattening of a neighborhood as a “message” to the other side (clearly collective punishment and targeting of civilians). Dahiya refers to a neighborhood in Lebanon subjected to this strategy. (http://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-dahiya-doctrine-comes-gaza/8006)

    Other examples include providing demographic advice for the preservation of high proportions of Jewish vis a vis Palestinian people inside Israel. The exemplar of this work is Arnon Sofer, an academic who advised the state on the route of the apartheid wall.

    I think most academics in the US would find this behavior unconscionable if it was their universities doing it. Many might even support boycotts of universities that excluded students by race. So it seems totally reasonable to apply the same standard to Israeli academic institutions.

  4. hophmi January 2, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    Once again, Corey, you illustrate what a complete hypocrite you are. How many American universities are built on land stolen from Native Americans? There is no one who actually believes that the land whre Hebrew U is will not be part of a land swap.

    African-Americans are around 12 percent of the US population. They make up 5.5 percent of the American college student population. http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2012/07/black_education_statistics_separating_fact_from_fiction.html

    At elite institutions in the US, they make up between 1.4 and 6.8 percent of the faculty, and mostly, under 4 percent. http://www.jbhe.com/features/55_blackfaculty.html

    At your own, institution, Brooklyn College, the entering freshman class in 2010 was 13.7 percent Black. African-Americans make up nearly HALF of Brooklyn’s population. HALF. You teach there. I guess we should boycott Brooklyn college until it agrees to at least double, no, triple, that number.

    And your fourth basis? An email petition? So now, if some yahoo sends out an email and you ignore it (because you get like 200 a day), you’re automatically assumed to be AGAINST the resolution? Here, Corey, sign this petition against racism. What? You ignored it? I guess you’re a racist.

    As you say, Corey, it’s a little more complicated. Now, just apply that complex thinking in a direction that is not intellectually self-serving, disingenuous, and hypocritical, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

    • Corey Robin January 2, 2014 at 3:03 am #

      “African-Americans are around 12 percent of the US population. They make up 5.5 percent of the American college student population.”

      That 5.5% figure in the source you cite is referring to black men only. There are black women. They also go to college.

      25% of the students at Brooklyn College are African Americans.

      According to the census data, 34% of Brooklyn’s population is African American. Not quite a 1:1 ratio, but far far better than Israel’s.

      • hophmi January 2, 2014 at 6:59 am #

        I misread the Grio article. You’re deliberately ignoring the point. Your 2010 freshman class was 13.7%, by the way, little more than a third of the percentage of African-Americans in Brooklyn, and much worse than the percentage of Palestinians in college relative to population. And that’s all the more glaring in a country like the US where we try and send every kid to college and where there are institutions that have much lower admissions standards and fewer opportunities for higher education than Israel does. But we could point to many hard and fast statistics that show systematic, institutional racism, like, say prison statistics. Yesterday, Harry Belafonte called our justice system “Dickensian.” How about percentage of Blacks in the FDNY?

        The point is that you think an institutional boycott of Israeli universities is justified by institutional discrimination that is, in most cases, no worse than what we have in the United States, and certainly not unusual around the world where minorities are concerned, particularly in places of conflict; see, Dalits, India. You also consider no other factor than statistics (no consideration, for instance, of whether social mores in Arab society might play a role in the low number of Palestinian Arabs in Israeli universities, especially where women are concerned). In places like Haifa, Arab students make up well over 30 percent of the student population. The reasons you give to boycott Israel are problems we have in the US, and sometimes, they are much worse here than they are there.

        You also ignore Israeli affirmative action efforts, which are extensive. http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/israel-to-launch-campaign-to-attract-more-arab-students-to-universities.premium-1.471184?v=FA2A9984C95DB754EF9F152EBE88D472

  5. Roi Maor January 2, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    If we are talking about Israeli universities in terms of their treatment of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, the points you raised barely scratch the surface.

    Israel, unlike the United States, is a bilingual country (in fact and by law – although it is a dead letter). Arab-Palestinian citizens’ mother tongue is Arabic. Most of them, by necessity, are proficient in Hebrew, but it is not their primary language.

    Yet all of Israel’s seven universities teach only in Hebrew. Not a single course is in Arabic. All of Israel’s general colleges teach in Hebrew (there are four teacher colleges – out of 28 – that teach in Arabic, at least partially). Textbooks and professional certification tests are exclusively in Hebrew.

    Under these conditions, the numerous obstacles mentioned in Rahim’s comments above, and the overall blatant discrimination against Arab-Palestinians’ education in general, from preschool onward, the fact that the ratio has even reached its current low level, is a testament to the incredible dedication of the Arab minority in Israel.

    So, the contention that Israeli universities are “educating the future leaders of Arab universities” is bizarre, as there are no Arab universities (or even general colleges) in Israel, nor is any being set up right now. And the claim that they are in the “forefront of fostering dialogue between Arabs and Jews” is baseless: considering that all discussions are conducted in one side’s language, it would be more accurate to call it a monologue.

    • hophmi January 2, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      “Israel, unlike the United States, is a bilingual country ”

      The United States is very much a bilingual country. We don’t have an official language here. I’m not aware of our academic institutions offering regular classes in Spanish, which is the first language of a substantial percentage of our population.

      “Not a single course is in Arabic.”

      That’s completely untrue. Haifa University, for instance, has an entire Arabic Language and Literature department, where one can major in these fields and in Islamic Studies.

      “Textbooks and professional certification tests are exclusively in Hebrew.”

      Again, I’m not aware of any teacher certification programs in the United States that allow teachers to become certified by passing tests that are in Spanish, unless that’s the field that they’re going into. And we have many schools here, especially in urban areas, like Brooklyn, where the MAJORITY of the students speak Spanish as a first language.

      “Under these conditions, the numerous obstacles mentioned in Rahim’s comments above, and the overall blatant discrimination against Arab-Palestinians’ education in general, from preschool onward, the fact that the ratio has even reached its current low level, is a testament to the incredible dedication of the Arab minority in Israel.”

      I would use exactly the same language to describe the achievements of Black college students, particularly if they come from the inner city. Right here in New York, African-American students are quite likely to come from underfunded schools where there are no textbooks and few resources, in addition to all of the other socioeconomic problems these students must contend with, problems that are the legacy of segregation and discrimination. Schools of higher education have long manipulated the affirmative action system to continue to exclude students of color from poor backgrounds in favor of a cosmetic diversity that favors middle-class Blacks, a disproportionate number of whom come from the Carribean. Corey is doing exactly that when he points to the 25% of Brooklyn College students who are Black. He’s quoting you a number that is misleading. As a public institution, Brooklyn College is complicit in the institutional racism and the plague of inequality that Bill De Blasio spoke about.

  6. Malcolm Schosha January 2, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Corey, you wrote: “Critics of the ASA academic boycott often claim that the boycott is illegitimate because it targets Israeli universities, which are the site of some of the greatest criticism of the Israeli government and support for the Palestinian cause.”

    That is news to me. Most critics of the academic boycott, such as Martha Nussbaum, seem to claim that the very purpose of BDS is harmful and unhelpful, not because of any claim that Israeli universities are hot beds of BDS support.

    Other than BDS, there seems to be no other academic and/or artist boycotts in progress against any nation. There are no such boycotts even against those nations where human trafficking is common, nations that allow the the most vicious violations of child labor, nations that deny the education of women, nations that have sized land from neighbours by aggression (such as the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, the Chines occupation of Tibet, or the recent Russian occupation of Georgia), etc…

    There was formerly an academic boycott of South Africa. But it was very different than the BDS boycott. For instance, the 1965 boycott by 496 university professors from 34 British universities was worded thus:

    …………………………………
    ACADEMIC BOYCOTT OF SOUTH AFRICA: DECLARATION BY BRITISH ACADEMICS, 1965

    We, the (undersigned) professors and lecturers in British universities in consultation with the Anti-Apartheid Movement:

    *Protest against the bans imposed on Professors Simons and Roux;

    *Protest against the practice of racial discrimination and its extension to higher education;

    *Pledge that we shall not apply for or accept academic posts in South African universities which practise racial discrimination.
    ………………………………….

    In fact the first two items of the British boycott actually have nothing to do with boycotts. They are censure. The third item is just a pledge by the teachers who signed not to accept a teaching position at a school that practices racial discrimination. Do you see how different that is from BDS?

    • Malcolm Schosha January 2, 2014 at 8:21 am #

      I might add, Corey, that your accusation that Israeli universities and Israeli professors are “collaborators” with their own nation, is innovative. It might be worth having a discussion some time on the subjects of loyalty and betrayal.

      “Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations III. 7.

  7. Dene Karaus January 2, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    To think, and to speak thoughtfully is what’s radical. University Professors are paid to do those two things. Thus, free academies are the most radical institutions in our culture.

    • BillR January 2, 2014 at 8:51 am #

      That’s the idea, but only a few join the fight for academic freedom.

      • Malcolm Schosha January 2, 2014 at 9:59 am #

        @BillR. Pappe does no give a flying rat’s ass about academic freedom. His single focus in life seems to be a maniacal desire for the eternal damnation of Israel to Hell.

  8. J. Otto Pohl January 5, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Most US and Israeli professors are radicals. The position of creating a greater Israel with a permanently subjugated and marginalized indigenous population is a radical idea. Most self identified “radicals”, “socialists”, and “progressives” in the world enthusiastically supported the Nakba in 1948. Historically it has been reactionaries that have opposed Israel’s repression of the Palestinians while the LEFT particularly in the 1940s and 1950s almost universally supported the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Challenge to Critics of BDS | Corey Robin - January 10, 2014

    […] Jan For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative […]

  2. Losing the debate, boycott opponents rely on legal threats | - April 4, 2014

    […] So on the one hand Fine seeks to downplay a call for solidarity from Palestinian trade unions, federations and civil society associations – while on the other hand, going out of his way to “offer our solidarity” to “165 Israeli academics who support a boycott of Ariel University”. That’s 165 academics, from thousands. […]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,590 other followers