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Israel Academia Monitor Follows

Anti-Israel Activities of Israeli Academics

 

 

Reprints of anti-Israel articles do not represent the position

of IAM, and they are being reproduced as a public service

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IAM supports the universal tradition of academic freedom that is an indispensable characteristic of higher education in Israel. At the same time, it is concerned by the activities of a small group of academics--sometimes described as revisionist historians or post-Zionists, among other labels--who go beyond the “free search for truth and its free exposition” (to quote the American Association of University Professors) that is the hallmark of academic freedom. Exploiting the prestige (and security) of their positions, such individuals often propound unsubstantiated and, frequently, demonstrably false arguments that defame Israel and call into question its right to existence.

 

 
 
We are happy to announce the publication of the study Academic Freedom in Israel: A Comparative Perspective; it compares academic freedom in Israel with that enjoyed by faculty in three academic leaders- Germany, Great Britain and the United States. This first of a kind research, is systematic, detailed and meticulously referenced.
The study indicates that, contrary to the view of radical scholars and their liberal supporters, the Israeli academy has enjoyed far greater freedom than its counterparts in the comparative cases. Indeed, in all three countries a combination of case law, ethic codes and strong oversight by boards of directors and politicians who appointed them have prevented radical faculty in public universities from abusing and subverting academic privileges to push an activist political agenda.
Not countervailed by academic duties and a need to account to the public and its elected representatives, the expansive sense of academic freedom has hurt Israel’s academic standing in the world. Liberal arts and social science, in particular, have been trending well below global averages, jeopardizing Israel’s overall competitive quest.
We hope that the study will spur a long-overdue debate on how to restore much- needed balance between academic freedom and the broader interests of the society and the state.
 

First IAM Round table in Tel Aviv and videos from the IAM roundtable, May 3, 2013 

The 2nd IAM event "BDS Campaign Against Israel" and Audio

A unique opportunity to purchase the IAM book on Academic Freedom

                            

Click to view whole articles:
 Extracts

30.07.15

Tel Aviv University
 
 
TAU Tovi Fenster: A Profile of a Political Activist
 
Tovi Fenster, a professor of urban planning at Tel Aviv University, has turned her tenured position into a platform for political activism. A perusal of her publications indicates that her urban planning research suffered from serious "mission creep," another way of saying that she has embraced what has nothing to do with urban planning. Here are some examples: "Between socio-spatial and urban Justice: Rawls' Principles of Justice in the 2011 Israeli Protest Movement”; "Tactics and Strategies of Power: The Construction of Spaces of Belonging for Palestinian Women in Jaffa-Tel Aviv"; “Teaching Gender in Israel: Experience in Tel Aviv University.” “Belly Dancing in Israel: Body Embodiment, Religion and Nationality,” and so on. 
Fenster was hired to teach and research urban planning, but like other activist faculty profiled by IAM she is pursuing a political agenda at the expanse of the tax payer. 
Her many graduate students have followed the lead. For example, Chen Misgav wrote his doctoral dissertation titled Spatial Activism in the City: Perspectives of Body, Identity and Memory. The Planning for the environment with communities (PECLAB) website indicates that Misgav "works as full time student on his PhD at the PECLAB since 2008 and serves as the PECLAB coordinator." His dissertation is part of Fenster's apparent effort to "re-define the concept of activism by exposing and examining the ways activists construct urban spaces using concepts such as identity, embodiment and memory. The basic assumption of this research is that activism in the global era serves as an important element in our cities." 
How do Fenster and her students link this type of research to urban planning? The trick is simple: add the term “space” or “spatial” to the title and it becomes "urban planning." 
Like other faculty activists, Fenster has benefited from the expansive notion of academic freedom in the social sciences. She is clearly a winner of this system. Regrettably, the students and the taxpayers are the losers.

 

27.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
How to Fight BDS? A Guide for the Perplexed - Readers Comments
 
The series has generated a large number of comments from our readers. Since we could not respond to each individual comment, there are two broad categories of issues that the readers brought up. 
First, there are those who expressed frustration that our series is called a Guide but has no suggestions for fighting BDS beyond pointing out the “negatives,” as they put it. The name Guide was a slightly humorous reference to the Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. The title was meant to map out the contours of the BDS movement and its academic-intellectual roots, the complexity of the issues involved, and the cost and benefit calculations that need to be made when considering options. The Guide is a much needed map for what is now a quite loosely constructed endeavor, with groups and individual players touting their own diagnoses and, more important, their alleged success in fighting BDS. Unsurprisingly, BDS is mostly commonly diagnosed as subspecies of anti-Semitism and has generated a long list of conferences, workshops, books and articles on the subject. While there is some overall between anti-Semitism and BDS, a much broader perspective needs to be adopted to fight the BDS phenomenon. Our post is aimed to stimulate the discourse on the issue. 
Second, some readers sent us their own plans for fighting BDS. These readers also criticized the Israeli government for not leading the anti-BDS effort. As we empathized before, there are a number of bodies in the Israeli government that are in charge of fashioning and implementing anti-BDS infinitives. However, the efforts have been stalled because of bureaucratic turf war and the lack of agreement as to who are potential partners. For instance, the professional staff of the Foreign Ministry are inclined to include the liberal J-Street, but political appointees oppose the group. 
Third, some readers seem to be confused about the remarkable pluralism of the American Jewish community on campus and beyond which is expressed in attitudes toward BDS. By and large, American Jews tend to be secularized – a trend that is reflected in their solid pro-Democratic voting record. For instance, the more recent annual survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, indicates that only 20 percent identify themselves as conservative or leaning conservative, with the rest self-described as moderate and liberal. Given this make-up, Israel has become a highly polarizing issue in the community at large and on campus in particular, as we reported before. The respectable Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute conducted its own survey that concluded that “Diaspora Jewry is increasingly critical of Israel and young Diaspora Jews are growing more alienated from the Jewish state.” 
The polarizing effect of Israel is not limited to BDS alone. The nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany), which Israel has bitterly opposed, has fractured the community. In spite of the fact that major Jewish organizations are lobbying Congress against approving the accord, the majority of American Jews support the agreement, according to a recent poll. In this sense, J-Street which is lobbying for the passage of the accord, seems to be more in tune with the majority of the American Diaspora. A recent poll conducted by Steven Cohen, a leading expert on attitudes of American Jews, found that 49 percent of American Jews support it and 35 percent oppose it. But among the younger cohorts (below 40), 59 percent support it and 25 oppose it. The disparity between the older generation and the younger American Jews should not come as a surprise as the 2013 Pew survey clearly demonstrated the emotional disengagement of younger Jews from Israel. 
This psychological distancing of the younger cohorts has a subtle but large impact on the BDS wars on campus. The experience of Eliora Katz, a graduate student, is imperative in this context. Katz wrote about the tense atmosphere on campus: “Most of all, we pay for it through the deep divide it has created within the Jewish community outside of Israel. Israel was once a unifying factor for Jews— secular or religious, Ashkenazi or Sephardi. Yet growing up in a post-intifada era, I have seen the Jewish Homeland transformed before my very eyes into a source of deep, acute division, a source of hatred and deplorable behavior [among Jews]”. While anti-BDS activists like Katz battle it out with Jewish BDS supporters, other Jewish students have chosen to dissociate.

 

23.07.15 

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
How to Fight BDS? A Guide for the Perplexed IV
 
A virtual consensus among anti-BDS activists holds that faculty play a large role in the phenomenon. Yet the role of the faculty has not been given the kind of attention that it really deserves. 
At the most applied level, activist faculty, mostly in social sciences, sponsor speakers and help to organize events. As the Princeton student noted, professors are among organizers and promoters of BDS events on her campus and beyond. This should come as no surprise, since liberal arts faculty has a long standing record of political activism in a wide range of issues. The vast majority of professors in Middle East studies are members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), a professional organization that promotes activism, especially when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is involved. Professor Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, was a spokesperson for the PLO, just to mention one name. 
But it is their role of purveyors of scholarship that matters the most. As well known, the dominant scholarship in the discipline tends to castigate Israel, exculpate Palestinians and Arab and whitewash Islam. John Esposito, a highly activist academic, the Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University is a known apologist for Islam. 
Joseph Massad, the controversial Columbia University professor just published a book Islam on Liberalism that purports to show that, in spite of the all the negative images, Islam is essentially liberal. Massad’s new book takes Esposito’s whitewashing of Islam to a whole new level. 
Conversely, scholars who oppose these views are frequently disparaged. Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of the Middle East was repeatedly attacked by the MESA fraternity. Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese born scholar, who critiqued some of the cultural and political patterns of the Arabs and the Palestinians, fared even less well. As the article below indicated, he was decreed to be a traitor to his race and one who “sleeps with the enemy.” 
Collectively, this body of work has informed the perception of students who go on to form the elite, of the reality in the Middle East. By furnishing the canonical work that view Israel as an apartheid state deserving to be boycotted, this scholarship has paved the way for the BDS.

 

 

20.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
How to Fight BDS? A Guide for the Perplexed III
 
While much has been written on BDS, the phenomenon is usually discussed in isolation from the underlying trend on campus known as “political correctness.” The term, invented in the 1980s by conservative critics of social sciences and humanities, refers to an imposition of a radical leftist vision of society on campus. As the two articles below indicate, this vision privileges formerly marginalized minorities at the expense of other members of society. 
In the United States where political correctness is most advanced, the said minorities include women, people of color, native people, and LGBTs (lesbians, gays bisexual and transgender). Universities went to great length to ensure that, in the name of diversity, such minorities are amply represented on campus. 
To protect the diversity project, universities have instituted a strict speech code. Broadly conceived, it aims to eliminate speech that can offend one of the protected minorities. Recently, the speech code was expanded to include “micro-aggression” brief, verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her membership. Self-appointed monitors are quick to protest “micro-aggression.” In one case, Scholars of Color disrupted a class at UCLA because the professor changed the word Indigenous in a student’s essay to lower case. This was deemed as disrespectful to the ideological belief of the student. The professor was banned from the campus for a year. 
Protecting the diversity project has extended well beyond speech code to privilege the narrative of oppressed minorities everywhere, including alleged victims of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. Needless to say, the Palestinians are considered the symbol par excellence of oppressed and marginalized minorities. As IAM reported, Palestinian students on campus have built successful coalitions with other minorities to push for BDS. 
With the Israeli narrative being considered beyond the pale of a politically correct discourse, anti-BDS activists face a considerable problem. Pro-Israeli speakers have been shouted down and Jewish students harassed for trying to provide a different narrative. It is not clear whether such instance amount to an anti-Semitic incident, as some observers suggest. What is clear, however, is that running afoul of what is essentially political censorship in the name of political diversity, makes fighting BDS hard. 
But crafting responses to account for such a complex environment is made even more daunting when the role of academics is factored in. As the student from Princeton and other critics noted, faculty is a crucial factor in refashioning the current paradigm in social studies in general and Middle East in particular.

 

16.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
How to Fight BDS? A Guide for the Perplexed II
 
As fighting BDS on Western campuses has become the number one priority of the Jewish community, the number of groups and individuals involved has skyrocketed. This has posed a problem for Israeli authorities in charge of the BDS. For instance, as the article below indicates, the Foreign Ministry officials in charge of the BDS portfolio are locked in a struggle over who should be considered a “legitimate partner.” While some consider collaborating with a wide spectrum of American-Jewish groups on campus a must, others would like to limit contacts to right-wing groups alone. Adding to the confusion, the thirty or so groups and organizations that are currently participating in the anti-BDS endeavor, are not easy to identify politically. 
In reality however, serious political differences exist among the groups, reflecting the more general problem of how they conceptualize BDS. 
On the right end of the political spectrum are anti-BDS groups that consider any call to BDS to be anti-Semitic and indicative of a deeper agenda to destroy the state of Israel. Among them are the ZOA, Americans for Safe Israel (AFSI), Young Israel Leadership, Christians United For Israel (CUFI) and others. Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, supports settlements and objects to the division of Holy Land. The recently created Campus Maccabees (CM), a group supported by the right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson, holds the same view. David Brog, the former executive director of CUFI, has been appointed the new executive of the CM. Not incidentally, right-wing anti-BDS activists hold that Israel had the right to hold on to the territories and reject all efforts based on peace-for-territories. 
On the left-end are groups that differentiate between boycotting Israel and boycotting the territories. J-Street does not support BDS but “welcomes” a robust debate on the issue. Third Narrative supports boycotting the territories, but not Israel within the Green Line. Needles to say, these groups do not consider every call to boycott to be anti-Semitic or indicative of the desire to destroy Israel. 
The majority of the anti-BDS groups consider themselves to be apolitical in the sense of not taking an explicit position on the territories. But some like Stand with Us and AMCHA tend to label BDS as anti-Semitic. 
As the debate in the Foreign Ministry demonstrates, choosing anti-BDS partners can be tricky, involving an intricate cost-benefit analysis. There are benefits of working with Adelson’s CM, ZOA or other right wing anti-BDS activists. As a rule, they are well funded and very dedicated. But there are substantial costs as well, since these groups do not represent mainstream Jewish American students, or the community at large. The message of such groups, conflating Greater Land of Israel advocacy, charges of anti-Semitism and BDS, maybe problematic. When Hillel International tried to limit debate on BDS, it sparked a “mini-revolt” resulting in the Free Hillel movement on campuses. Picking Brog to lead CM has not been well received by the mainstream community who find Christian Zionists objectionable. 
J-Street is probably more of a fit in terms of the political makeup of American Jews, including students, but its official position on BDS seems confused. As for the Third Narrative, it has, as the IAM reported, a modest following among Jewish professors. 
Even if the Foreign Ministry could arrive at a consensus with regard to anti-BDS partners, the field of anti-BDS advocacy and activism in the United States and Europe is ultimately beyond its control. 
Troubling as this may be, the BDS movement is only a surface phenomenon of a deeper anti-Israel trend in the academy which is much more difficult to control. As the next post would demonstrate, the BDS is product of a peculiar radicalization of social sciences in campus, generically described as political correctness.

 

13.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
How to Fight BDS: Guide for the Perplexed I
 
The debate about fighting BDS has turned from a trickle to a deluge. The number of entities that are fighting BDS has skyrocketed from a few three years ago to some thirty in 2015 and the number of pundits and experts who write about it runs into the hundreds. Unsurprisingly, virtually every week a new report offers suggestions for taking on BDS. 
The recently released report of the Jewish People Policy Institute stands out in the crowded field. The JPPI is a highly respectable think tank and one of his authors is Dennis Ross, an esteemed former American diplomat. The analysis was discussed during a cabinet meeting with Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
The report concluded that, based on the number of BDS resolutions, the BDS danger on campuses is overstated. As for how to fight BDS, the authors recommended “shaming anti-Israel activist scholars, founding new Israel studies programs, and mobilizing Jewish donors to pressure universities not to hire anti-Israel faculty. The report describes the handling of Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois as a model for this type of action. As IAM noted, the University of Illinois' president refused to honor a departmental decision to offer Salaita a tenured position. 
There are a number of problems with the report. First, counting BDS resolutions is a rather superficial way of assessing the success of the movement. As indicated, even when a BDS motion fails, it “educates” the students on campus about Israel. Samuel M. Edelman and Carol F.S. Edelman coined the phrase “when failure succeeds” to speak on this issue, in the book by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, (eds.) The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2015). 
Second, shaming anti-Israel professors or even firing them, and mobilizing Jewish donors to pressure the academic authorities may backfire, as the Salaita case demonstrates. The virtually unknown Salaita, who taught in a modest college in Virginia, became the poster child of what was described as Jewish efforts to stifle free speech on campus and, more consequentially, landed a job at the American University of Beirut. 
Theoretically, creating Israel studies programs seem like a good idea, but its track record is poor. In many cases. Israelis (and others) picked to teach classes in the program were post-Zionists who had contributed to the delegitimization of Israel in the first place. Arguably the most notorious case pertained to Oren Yiftachel who used his visiting position in one of the programs to travel around the United States to promote his theory that Israel is an apartheid state. The Israel study program at Columbia University, is another case in point. Created to offset Joseph Massoud, a notorious anti-Israel scholar, it hired Yinon Cohen as the Yerushalmi Professor of Israel and Jewish Studies for the position. Cohen has used his perch in New York to promote his own brand of post-Zionism. No systemic study of the effectives of Israeli studies programs has been available, but anecdotal evidence indicates that they have made little impact on the discourse. 
Much as the recommendations of the JPPI are welcome, it is obvious that they may collide with campus reality. Unfortunately, those who want to fight BDS would encounter even more complexity a topic explored in a follow up post.

 

09.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Steven Salaita Upgrades His Academic Position - Update
 
Steven Salaita's academic trajectory is on the uptake. From a virtually unknown academic in a modest college, he is headed to Beirut to assume the Said chair at the American University of Beirut. Clearly this is an award for Salaita who became a celebrity in Middle East studies. 
The fact that the once respectable the American University in Beirut would hire Salaita is troubling, as the article below indicates. But the American University is by no means unique in this regard. To the contrary, there is a larger trend at work here that rewards anti-Israel scholars and scholarship. As IAM indicated, a number of Israeli academics found prestigious positions in British and other universities. 
Having continued now for more than three decades, this trend has led to the delegimization of Israel and provided the justification for BDS.

 

06.07.15

General Articles
 
 
Professorial Temperament and Temper: The Case of Israel
 
Professor Steven Salaita’s use of foul language terms to refer to Israel in his Tweeter postings, has led to a scrutiny of ex cathedra comments by academics. IAM reported that Salaita is suing the University of Illinois for withdrawing a job offer to punish him for using derogatory language. The AAUP has defended Salaita, stating that ex cathedra postings are part of academic freedom and should not be used against in weighting a prospective candidate for a position. 
Legal determination aside, the Salaita case inspired a debate about the use of crude and foul language by academics on the subject of Israel. As the following article, “Bonfire of Vulgarities” indicates, Salaita is not the only scholar using vulgar language in the Middle East academic community. Far from it, f-word and other invective have often been a part of the online discourse. 
This is especially intriguing, given that it takes place in the age of political correctness. Andrew Pessin, a philosophy professor at Connecticut College, who got into hot water by a Facebook post in which he compared Hamas in Gaza to a “rabid pitbull chained in a cage, regularly making efforts to escape,” while the liberal world decries its imprisonment. After suffering serious verbal abuse for what was described as “racist” comment, he was forced to take a medical leave of absence. 
It would be virtually inconceivable for any academic to post derogatory comments on blacks, gays, or any other politically correct minority. Comments on jihadist terrorism is not welcome either, because in the politically correct world on higher education this could be construed as Islamophobia. 
There is another aspect to the “bonfire of vulgarity.” Virtually all the scholars who stock this particular bonfire teach in Middle East programs. Professors, as we are often told, should demonstrate a “professorial temperament,” that is, comport themselves according to rules of objectivity and civil discourse. They are paid not only to teach a subject but to be role models for their students, the future elites. Given their liberal use of foul language on the Internet and on campus debates, as the article indicates, it is hard to imagine that they can follow the academic ideal in the classroom.

 

02.07.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Jake Lynch BDS Advocate Down Under- An Update
 
IAM had first reported on Jake Lynch a few years ago. Lynch, the head of Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sidney and a prominent pro-Palestinian activist, blocked a request of Dan Avnon, a Hebrew University professor, to spend a sabbatical at the University. An early example of academic BDS, the issue attracted national attention in Australia. Lynch was subsequently sued by Shurat HaDin on the grounds that BDS is a form of anti-Semitism, but the judge dismissed the case. 
Lynch's next move made more headlines. On 11 March 2015, Colonel Richard Kemp, a decorated British Army officer and a Commander of the British Empire, visited the University of Sydney in Sydney to deliver a lecture on "Ethical Dilemmas of Military Tactics" and the complexities in dealing with non-state armed groups like the Islamic State. Kemp who served a number of years in Afghanistan has spoken on the problems of fighting terrorists who take cover among civilians. 
His lecture was interrupted by a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators led by Associate-Professor Jake Lynch and some twelve Palestinian activists. Kemp is known for criticizing the various UN reports that put all the blame on the IDF during the Gaza operations. Following a heated exchange between the protesters and audience members, the pro-Palestinian protesters were evicted by security guards. During the incident, Lynch engaged in what seemed to be anti-Semitic behavior. Colonel Kemp wrote a letter of complaint to the university accusing Lynch of anti-Semitism. 
The university opened an investigation into the incident, but Lynch was not dismissed from his post, as some hoped. He receive a warning letter over his “unsatisfactory conduct for interfering with security guards at the protest.” 
Peter Wertheim the head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry expressed his disappointment with the decision of the university. For his part, Lynch apologized for what was construed as anti-Semitic behavior while expressing great relief that his position was secure. 
There is little doubt that Lynch has been a very problematic member of the faculty, bringing repeated negative attention to the university. Disrupting Colonel’s Kemp talk was just one of the many questionable actions that Lynch has been involved with. Still, under the expansive definition of academic freedom adopted by the university, it would take a greater level of anti-Semitism to fire him.

 

29.06.15

General Articles
 
 
The Further Decline of Israeli Universities
 
For some two decades now, comparative studies have shown the Israeli universities declining versus their Western counterpart. The newest such study that ranked Israel’s tertiary education within the region shows that even in the Middle East the “grades” are down. 
There are a number of reasons for this steady downward spiral. IAM’s Academic Freedom in Israel: A Comparative Perspective argued that the Maltz Committee of retired Supreme Court justice, Yaakov Maltz, the most serious effort to reform higher education, was never fully implemented, the Maltz Report, unveiled on January 8, 2000, was largely modeled on the reforms of the British universities initiated by Margaret Thatcher. Whereas universities in Britain prospered after the reform, in Israel the vehement opposition of the faculty prevented the type of structural changes needed to create true excellence. 
The structure of the Council of Higher Education, the MALAG, has posed another impediment. The faculty who runs the MALAG is, as a rule, lenient in overseeing the universities. So much so that even the highly liberal former Education Minister Yuli Tamir acknowledged the fact. In a 2009 interview in the Marker she stated: "The majority of the CHE members are representatives of the universities and colleges – As a result, representatives of the inspected bodies are members of the body that inspects them." According to Yaccov Bergman, a leading expert on higher education at the Hebrew University who received a letter of a former MALAG member, not much has changed since Tamir spoke. 
Finally, there is the problem of social sciences that affect negatively the overall ranking. As Bergman already pointed out, Israeli social sciences lag behind Western standard. IAM repeatedly noted that parts of social science research in Israel adopted the critical, neo-Marxist approach that is not included in the social science indices such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Two international committees that evaluated the Department of Politics and Government and the Department of Sociology at Ben Gurion University made this point. 
The head of the newly created Department of Anthropology at Haifa University, Amalia Sa'ar complained that when the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) announced a job opening for a director of the Social Science grants system, the job description specifically requested a candidate with strong background in quantitative research methods relevant to social sciences. In Sa'ar’s opinion, this amounted to a discrimination against qualitative research, which, judging from her list of publications, is a code name for critical, neo-Marxist fare that appeared in obscure publications not likely to make it into social science indices. 
Tax payers who support higher education expect to see results in the form of good comparative ranking. Instead, they have ended up subsidizing a system that has been on a seemingly long-term down spiral. 
For some two decades now, comparative studies have shown the Israeli universities declining versus their Western counterpart. The newest such study that ranked Israel’s tertiary education within the region shows that even in the Middle East the “grades” are down. 
There are a number of reasons for this steady downward spiral. IAM’s Academic Freedom in Israel: A Comparative Perspective argued that the Maltz Committee of retired Supreme Court justice, Yaakov Maltz, the most serious effort to reform higher education, was never fully implemented, the Maltz Report, unveiled on January 8, 2000, was largely modeled on the reforms of the British universities initiated by Margaret Thatcher. Whereas universities in Britain prospered after the reform, in Israel the vehement opposition of the faculty prevented the type of structural changes needed to create true excellence. 
The structure of the Council of Higher Education, the MALAG, has posed another impediment. The faculty who runs the MALAG is, as a rule, lenient in overseeing the universities. So much so that even the highly liberal former Education Minister Yuli Tamir acknowledged the fact. In a 2009 interview in the Marker she stated: "The majority of the CHE members are representatives of the universities and colleges – As a result, representatives of the inspected bodies are members of the body that inspects them." According to Yaccov Bergman, a leading expert on higher education at the Hebrew University who received a letter of a former MALAG member, not much has changed since Tamir spoke. 
Finally, there is the problem of social sciences that affect negatively the overall ranking. As Bergman already pointed out, Israeli social sciences lag behind Western standard. IAM repeatedly noted that parts of social science research in Israel adopted the critical, neo-Marxist approach that is not included in the social science indices such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Two international committees that evaluated the Department of Politics and Government and the Department of Sociology at Ben Gurion University made this point. 
The head of the newly created Department of Anthropology at Haifa University, Amalia Sa'ar complained that when the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) announced a job opening for a director of the Social Science grants system, the job description specifically requested a candidate with strong background in quantitative research methods relevant to social sciences. In Sa'ar’s opinion, this amounted to a discrimination against qualitative research, which, judging from her list of publications, is a code name for critical, neo-Marxist fare that appeared in obscure publications not likely to make it into social science indices. 
Tax payers who support higher education expect to see results in the form of good comparative ranking. Instead, they have ended up subsidizing a system that has been on a seemingly long-term down spiral.

 

25.06.15

General Articles
 
 
Professor Steven Salaita: Update
 
In 2013 Professor Steven Salaita was offered a tenured position in the Department of Native American Studies at Illinois University in Urbana-Champaigne. But after giving up his previous position at Virginia Tech University, the University withdrew the offer. The decision was a response to the a string of Twitter messages that Salaita posted in summer 2014. 
"Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already." ; "This is not a conflict between Israel and 'Hamas'. It's a struggle by an Indigenous people against a colonial Power." ; "Let's cut to the chase: If you're defending Israel right now you're an awful human being." ; "Will you condemn Hamas? No. Why not? Because Hamas isn't the one incinerating children, you disingenuous prick." ; "Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime." ; "Israel's message to Obama and Kerry: we'll kill as many Palestinians as we want, when we want. p.s.: fuck you, pay me." ; "You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing." ; "The IDF Spokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize genocidal violence. Goebbels much?" ; "Israeli Independence Equals sustenance of the European eugenic logic made famous by Hitler." 
The Salaita case raises an important issue of academic freedom. In 2014 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a statement: 
“Recently we argued in a policy statement on "Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications," that faculty comments made on social media, including Twitter, are largely extramural statements of personal views that should be protected by academic freedom. While Professor Salaita's scholarship does appear to deal with the topic of Palestine, his posts were arguably not intended as scholarly statements but as expressions of personal viewpoint. Whether one finds these views attractive or repulsive is irrelevant to the right of a faculty member to express them. Moreover, the AAUP has long objected to using criteria of civility and collegiality in faculty evaluation because we view this as a threat to academic freedom. It stands to reason that this objection should extend as well to decisions about hiring, especially about hiring to a tenured position.” 
On June 13, 2015 the AAUP censured the University of Illinois for rejecting Salaita’s appointment, a violation of principles of academic freedom and tenure. 
A censure decision by the AAUP is significant, but has no legal standing. Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University to force it to disclose correspondence relating to the case. There is also a technical question, whether Salaita was in effect hired by the department, or was a final approval by the University's Board of Trustees to be made. 
Whatever the outcome, the Salaita case promises to add to the evolving understanding of academic freedom.

 

22.06.15

Tel Aviv University
 
 
Hagar Kotef Upgrades Her Academic Position: From Bar-Ilan University to SOAS
 
Dr. Hagar Kotef is a lecturer in Gender Studies at Bar Ilan University and a fellow at the Minerva Humanities Center (MHC) at TAU under the leadership of Professor Adi Ophir. 
Recently MHC announced the launch of Kotef's new book, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility, and a farewell party as she departs to take up a position at SOAS in London. 
Kotef's book is in line with the writings of Adi Ophir, and his frequent co-author Ariella Azoulay. They have accused Israel with for creating a Nazi-style regime in the territories. In one of her publications Azoulay compared to the separation barrier to the Auschwitz concentration camp, its caption reads, "In this act, too, Palestinians are the ones who will be arrested. This time, however, they force the Israeli soldiers to chase them as if they were chasing (Jewish) prisoners under the Nazi regime." Not incidentally, Ophir and Azoulay have a long standing connection to Duke University which published Kotef’s book. 
Kotef book seeks to place the Palestinian issue in the context of the currently popular critical scholarship of "regimes of movement," which advocates free movement across international borders, among others. 
The book description states: "We live within political systems that increasingly seek to control movement, organized around both the desire and ability to determine who is permitted to enter what sorts of spaces, from gated communities to nation-states. In Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces. Ranging from the writings of Locke, Hobbes, and Mill to the sophisticated technologies of control that circumscribe the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, this book shows how concepts of freedom, security, and violence take form and find justification via “regimes of movement.” Kotef traces contemporary structures of global (im)mobility and resistance to the schism in liberal political theory, which embodied the idea of “liberty” in movement while simultaneously regulating mobility according to a racial, classed, and gendered matrix of exclusions." 
As noted by IAM, Kotef’s previous research included work on Machsom Watch, a group that monitors the treatment of Palestinians in border checkpoints. IAM questioned Kotef "What Gender Studies Have to do With It?" But surprisingly, the first chapter in the new book is the article Kotef co-authored with Merav Amir, a staunch supporter of BDS, that was published in 2011 "Between Imaginary Lines Violence and its Justifications at the Military Checkpoints in Occupied Palestine". 
It is apparently this type of scholarship that helped Kotef to secure an appointment in the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. SOAS has a well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. The SOAS Students’ Union has supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) since 2005. In February, SOAS students voted in support of academic boycott. SOAS students have also been active at the national level. Helped by such sentiments, Britain's National Union of Student (NUS) adopted an official BDS resolution in August 2014. 
There is little wonder that SOAS students have emerged as some of the most energetic BDS advocates. A perusal of the course offered in the Department of Political Science at SOAS tells the story. For example, Dr. Elian Weizman, a former TAU student, offers a class Critical Issues in Israeli Politics and Society". She lists her approaches as follows: 
* Post-colonial approaches I – the Mizrahi question in colonial perspective; 
* Post-colonial approach II – colonial legacies and realities: the ‘occupation’, law and land; 
* Israeli militarism and its social and material implications: politics, gender and demography; 
* Political economy: between the colonial and the neo-liberal. 
Hagar Kotef's new job is symptomatic of a large trend in British universities that have a long history of offering positions to radical critics of Israel. Haim Bresheeth - University of East London & SOAS; Ilan Pappe - Exeter University; Uri Davis - University of Durham; Nira Yuval Davis - University of East London; Oren Ben-Dor - University of Southampton; Yosefa Loshitzky - University of East London & SOAS; Eyal Weizman - Goldsmiths College; Marcelo Svirsky - Cardiff University; Uri Gordon - Loughborough University; and others. 
Individually and collectively, these scholars have emerged as leaders of the movement to delegitimize and boycott the Israeli academy. For instance, Davis, a former members of Matzpen, was the first to call for a boycott of Israel, Pappe took it upon himself to organize the British faculty drive to boycott two Israeli universities and, more recently, Oren Ben-Dor organized a conference at Southampton University that questioned the legitimacy of Israel to exist. After strong protest, the conference was cancelled. 
It remains to be seen whether Kotef would join the Israel bashing fraternity in Great Britain. If she does, SOAS would probably be gratified.

 

 

18.06.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Latent Boycott at the Louvre?
 
Sefy Henlder, a professor of art history from Tel Aviv University tried to book a visit for his students at the iconic Louvre museum in Paris. He was told that on there was no availability on the day that he requested, but the alternative days he had proposed were also denied. Professor Hendler had no luck in trying to book the Sainte Chapelle church, another site that the students planned to visit. 
Hendler then sent inquires in the name of factious academic institutions in Abu-Dhabi and Italy and received a positive response. At this point, he alerted Francois Heilbronn, the head of the Friends of Tel Aviv University in France, who, in turn notified the administration of Louvre and Sainte Chapelle. Hendler is skeptical about the official explanation that his bookings were rejected because of a computer malfunctioning. Since boycotting Israel is illegal in France, the authorities have opened an investigation. 
Should they prove that Louvre and Sainte Chapelle broke the law, it would be illustrative of a latent boycott. As IAM noted, latent boycott is normally initiated by an individual or individuals who want to punish Israelis what they perceive to be a wrong policy of their government. 
In the Louver case, it would be relatively easy to prove latent boycott. The case of Israeli academics whose papers were rejected or participation in a conference denied proving boycott intentions is virtually impossible.

 

15.06.15

Tel Aviv University
 
 
Israel’s Gay Pride Parade and “Pinkwashing” are Here Again
 
Aeyal Gross, a law professor at TAU, is considered the architect of “pinkwashing,” a theory holding that Israel is tolerant of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals, and Transgender (LGBT) to cover up the “sins of occupation.” As IAM pointed out, Gross is a part of the self-described queer group that considers the mainstream LGBT community a sell-out and props for the nationalist propaganda of the government. 
Unsurprisingly, Gross has used the annual Gay Pride Parade, one of the largest international gatherings of LGBT, to display his theory again. But this time his theory faced opposition. He was confronted by a gay debater James Kirchick, who asked him why “everything must have a sinister motive and come back to the Palestinian issue?" He also stated that “Israel cannot do anything right in some people’s eyes. Even the good things it does must be for bad reasons.” Kirchick also brought up the issue of gay persecution in Arab countries, stating that gays in Israel have more rights. 
Gross’s evasive answers to these and other questions demonstrates his intellectual shallowness and moral cowardice. His response to Kirchick is telling in this context: “gays in the U.K. have many more rights than in Israel. So what?” 
Gross clearly did not want to tackle the issue of the long-standing persecution of gays in many Arab and Muslim countries. As well known, gays are imprisoned and often executed. In the territories occupied by ISIS, gays are tortured and executed in most gruesome ways. The “so what” speaks volumes about Gross, who, ironically is an expert in international human rights. 
Unfortunately, Gross is not the only among the pinkwashing theorists to evade the catastrophe that has befallen gays in the Middle East. For instance, Professor Sarah Schulman who featured prominently in the New York Times article on pinkwashing in Israel kept quiet on the issue. 
It remains to be seen whether the queer community that has been so active in protesting Israel’s pinkwashing would speak up for Arab and Muslim gays

 

12.06.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Sheldon Adelson Joins the anti-BDS Movement
 
With BDS spreading on American campuses, anti-BDS activity has moved up to the top of the agenda of the Jewish community. The latest entrant into the arena is the conservative billionaire and mega-donor to political causes, Sheldon Adelson. Co-chaired by Haim Saban, a big Democratic donor, a secret meeting in Las Vegas last weekend attracted some 50 participants representing a variety of groups. The event, called Campus Macabees Summit, promised to raise $50 million to combat campus BDS. According to estimates, $20 million was already pledged. Dr. Miriam Adelson, and the rabbi Shmuley Boteach, are slated to head the project. 
Missing from the confab were J-Street, a liberal organization that opposes BDS and other liberal groups are concerned with the fact that the initiative is run by Adelson, a supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlement drive. Benji Cannon, in charge of J-Street on campus, warns that Campus Macabees will not sit well with liberal and progressive Jewish students. Other critics point out that the Adelson scheme considers all BDS proposals to be a form of anti-Semitism, or, as Boteach put, “the economic annihilation of Israel.” 
It is too early to estimate the impact of the Campus Macabees initiative. It has the potential to make a real contribution, but it can also split the Jewish students into competing camps as epitomized by the Open Hillel movement.

 

08.06.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Academic BDS Moves to Front Page
 
After years of neglect, academic BDS has become front page story. On the 28th of May, academic leaders asked President Reuven Rivlin for an emergency meeting. As Professor Peretz Lavie, the head of the Technion recounts, the participants told Rivlin that the growing academic isolation is a national security threat of the highest order. The president agreed with the conclusion and promised to raise the issue with diplomats and heads of states. 
But, as IAM repeatedly stated, fighting academic boycott is not easy as it is a multifaceted phenomenon, involving faculty and students. One of the most difficult issues to tackle is the so called gray or latent boycott, defined as a clandestine effort to undermine Israeli academics as they seek to publish their work in reputable journals abroad, obtain sabbatical positions, grants, invitations to conference or even get recommendations. 
Professor Rivka Carmi, the President of Ben Gurion University spoke on the issue in an article in Maariv, thatacademic isolation is a real threat to Israel. She noted, "large part of these boycotts are not formal. They work behind the scenes and reflect, in part, on non-acceptance of post-doctoral positions in Israel, rejection of co-authored articles and awards.There is no formal boycott but a growing understanding among academic staff in Israel, that there is a kind of silent boycott". 
Professor Asher Cohen, the rector of the Hebrew University asked his faculty to report on cases of latent boycott. 
Still, because of the arcane rules in the academy and the lack of transparency, it is not easy to prove that one’s paper was rejected because of nationality. Professional journals have a high rate of rejection and it is always possible to quote scientific reasons. As Professor Zeev Zahor writes, it took him a couple of years to realize that his book reviews were rejected because of his nationality. When he confronted the editor, the latter evaded the issue. 
So far the latent boycott has affected the liberal arts only. As a rule, the sciences are less politicized and the chances of the boycott spreading are not high. Still, even if confined to liberal arts, the latent boycott is a worrisome phenomenon.

 

04.06.15 

Tel Aviv University
 
 
TAU Minerva Humanities promotes neo-Marxist agenda: Chen Misgav, Hilla Dayan, Erella Grassiani
 
In March 2015, Chen Misgav, a PhD candidate at the TAU Geography Department under Prof. Tovi Fenster, wrote to the Social Science Forum on behalf of the TAU Minerva Humanities Center (MHC), where he is a fellow, to announce an event in April. 
The event, "To Rethink the Academia" hosted three panelists from University of Amsterdam involved in ReThink Uva, a solidarity direct action group dealing with the New University movement, the student protests in Amsterdam, and the international struggle against the financialization of academia. The group protests the "increasing numbers of temporary contracts, funding being allocated based on the number of graduates or the number of publications, and the merger- and relocation-plans carried out without staff involvement or support." 
It is not surprising, since Minerva Humanities Center is the hotbed for neo-Marxist, critical scholars. The three speakers are in fact known anti-Israel activists. 
Dr. Hilla Dayan, served as international relations adviser for the Coalition of Women for Peace, Israel (which supports the right of return of Palestinian refugees and calls for BDS) and is a co-founder of gate48, which "supports non-violent resistance to the occupation...the main reason for human right violations conducted by the Israeli government". Dayan claimed in the Amsterdam Law Forum 2011 that "Israel is currently undergoing a quiet anti-democratic revolution" and that civil society should "demand justice, accountability and an end to a brutal occupation by Israel must act to defend individuals and organizations from government retribution and punish this government for its anti-democratic excesses. Ensuring that Israel pays a heavy international price for domestic repression...the only way to bring the country to its senses. No matter how far-reaching new repressive laws are, dissenters and human rights defenders in Israel will not stop their struggle for democracy and justice at the government’s command." 
Her partner, Dr. PW Zuidhof, joined her in a public letter against the last summer war with Gaza. They accused Israelis, who blamed Hamas for putting civilians in peril's way, for supporting war crimes of the IDF. 
Dr. Erella Grassiani published in 2013 her Soldiering Under Occupation: Processes of Numbing among Israeli Soldiers in the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The book repeats the usual charges that the IDF "being numbed" from running an occupation, engaged in wholesale brutalizing the Palestinians. 
Not surprisingly Hagada Hasmalit, (the Israeli radical left-wing website (that by its own admission features anti-Zionist, Marxist or anarchist perspective by Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, and Palestinians) has strongly promoted the event in more details. 
Tel Aviv University and Minerva Humanities Center should not support events run by activists masquerading as scholars. Offering academic legitimacy to such events, diminishes the standing of legitimate scholarship.

 

1.06.15

Boycott Calls Against Israel
 
 
Missing in Action: The Israeli Government and BDS
 
The IAM Roundtable "Who Sponsors Israel's Delegitimization on Campus?" on May 8, 2015 at Tel Aviv University offered a trenchant critique of the failure of the Israeli government to respond to the BDS movement. Our last post on the subject proved highly timely. On May 28, President Reuven Rivlin met with presidents of Israeli universities. The Chairman of the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities, Professor Peretz Lavie from the Technion urged President Rivlin to do more about the BDS. 
According to an account of the meeting, “university heads noted a number of results of the boycott movement, including a significant decline in collaborative scientific research with international companies out of fear that the resulting products would be boycotted, the rejection by academic journals of articles by Israeli researchers and enormous pressure from student organizations on academic leaders around the world to participate in the boycott.” 
Professor Lavie said it was still possible to stop the snowball effect of the movement, but warned that “we are at the 90th minute” and called for “strategic action” to stop the boycott movement in Europe and the United States. 
President Rivlin responded by describing academic boycotts against Israel as a “strategic threat of the first order.” He told the university heads that “he was willing to take part in any effort to fight the boycott movement and promised to raise the issue whenever he meets with diplomatic figures in Israel and abroad.” 
Gracious as President Rivlin’s promise is it would take more than his effort to arrest what Professor Lavie called the “snowball effect of BDS.” 
For a number of years now IAM has repeatedly warned about the impending danger. For instance, in October 2012, IAM submitted a proposal for a panel at the annual Globes conference on the subject. It was hoped that publicity would mobilize awareness, but the organizers rejected the proposal. 
Anyone who listened to “The Financial Network: Who Funds What and Why?" would have realized that BDS is highly complex, multilayered, and professionally run. A response to the BDS needs to be of the same order. It is only the Israeli government that can mount this kind of effort.

 

28.05.15

General Articles
 
 
The Israeli Government and the anti-BDS Fight on Campus
 
On May 8, 2015, IAM organized a panel “Who Sponsors Israel's Delegitimization on Campus?” at Tel Aviv University. 
The topic attracted public and media attention, but there was no interest from the Israeli government. Indeed, the event organizers reported that they contacted a number of officials in relevant ministries, but failed to elicit a response. 
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a pioneer against the BDS movement and one of the panelists, spoke about his frustration with Israeli government. He noted that the “Israeli government failed to tackle the BDS movement, not because it tried and failed, but because it did not try at all.” 
Interestingly enough, this is the view of Ari Shavit, the noted journalist and author. During a tour of more than twenty American campuses, Shavit was told by Jewish student activists that they felt overwhelmed by the massive BDS campaign and abandoned by the Israeli government. Facing unremitting hostility from pro-Palestinian activists, many Jewish students retreat from the public arena. It is hardly helpful that, according to recent polls, younger Jewish American cohorts are losing their Jewish identity and, more to the point, their attachment to Israel. 
There is a virtual consensus that the delegitimization - born out of the BDS drive - is a vital security issue for Israel. Unfortunately, the verbal lamenting has not been translated into a coherent plan of action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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