On Tuesday, the University of Haifa's Herzl Center is holding a conference under the title "The Demographic Problem and Israel's Demographic Policy."
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post a few days ago, the university's Ilan Pappe, a senior lecturer in the department of political science, complained bitterly about the conference, which he said was being held under the title: "The Arabs as a Demographic Problem in Israel." He said he had "told [his] Arab students that they are a demographic problem and they now have to be careful, because the Jews don't like demographic problems."
Asked by the Post if this was indeed the name of the conference, Pappe confirmed it again, and added that "this is an example of the insensitivity of a university supposedly priding itself on having so many Arab students and on supposedly maintaining a culture of coexistence."
The discrepancy between the actual name of the conference and the name Pappe gave it may seem relatively trivial. But accuracy, and the alleged absence thereof, lie at the heart of a bitter, ongoing battle between Pappe and his employers.
Charges leveled by Pappe against the university were instrumental in the vote last month by the Association of University Teachers in the United Kingdom to boycott the university. Yet these charges, the university claims, are based on the falsification and distortion of facts.
Distortions also apply, according to the university, to additional accusations made by Pappe against it – accusations which, he told the Post, also influenced the AUT's decision.
For example, the AUT, in a resolution which was endorsed by Pappe to boycott the University of Haifa, said that the university sent Pappe a letter on May 15, 2002, "notifying him that he faced trial and possible dismissal from his position." The AUT also claimed that this notice was related to Pappe's defense of Teddy Katz – a graduate student whose MA thesis was rejected, the AUT claimed, "because it documented a massacre" of 200 unarmed Arab civilians by the Hagana in the coastal town of Tantura in 1948.
The AUT resolution also claimed that Pappe's position was still being threatened. In fact, Katz's thesis was not rejected, as the AUT claims, because it "documented" a massacre.
Rather, a civil court judge determined, in a suit brought against Katz by Hagana veterans, that the thesis contained falsifications. As Israel's supreme court reiterated in its dismissal of Katz's appeal, the civil court had established that the thesis contained "facts which are untrue and which defame the plaintiffs."
According to Professor Amatzia Baram, a member of the academic committee that was subsequently set up by the University of Haifa to reexamine Katz's thesis, was that there were significant discrepancies between the tapes of the oral interviews with Palestinian refugees that he conducted, his own notes and the text of his thesis.
Even after Katz rewrote the thesis at the behest of the committee, Baram told the Post, a committee of external reviewers were so highly critical of it, that the Graduate Studies Authority decided to grant him a lower-level MA in which his thesis was not recognized.
A curious detail about Katz's thesis is Pappe's refusal to take responsibility for his role in it. In his acknowledgements accompanying the original text, completed in 1998, Katz wrote, "Special thanks go to my teacher and friend, Dr. Ilan Pappe, who read, more than once, all chapters of this thesis, made important comments and assisted me greatly in making this work into what it is. However, when asked by the >i>Post about his involvement in the thesis, Pappe said he read it only once before it was submitted. When the content of the acknowledgement was pointed out to him, Pappe said: "If he wrote I read it several times, it is not true – I read it thoroughly one time." Pappe also told the Post in the interview, which took place in his home in Tiv'on, "I believe that without sanctions and without pressure on Israel, including a boycott on universities, Israel will not stop the occupation.
This is my stance and it has been known for five years, and it is one of the reasons that in 2002 – and the university also details this in the indictment against me – it wanted to expel me and fire me."
However, the indictment Pappe referred to – a copy of which was reviewed by the Post – was not filed by the university, but by then-dean of the faculty of humanities, Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi. In March 2002, Ben-Artzi filed a complaint with the university's disciplinary court that charged Pappe with slandering and damaging the reputations of staff members involved in reexamining the Katz thesis. The indictment called on the court to use its authority to expel Pappe from the university.
The disciplinary court of the university – in a letter of reply to Ben-Artzi's complaint, a letter also reviewed by the Post – refused to consider the complaint, suggesting that it belonged in a civil, not an academic court. Pappe himself did not tell the Post of any further disciplinary action taken against him. Asked why the AUT was correct to claim that his job was still being threatened today, Pappe responded that he has never received an official letter telling him the process against him had been dropped.
Following the AUT's boycott resolution last month, Pappe's personal friend and the chair of his department, Uri Bar-Joseph, published a letter in the UK's The Guardian newspaper stating that no one at the university was currently threatening to remove Pappe from his position.
"I wrote this letter on my own initiative," Bar-Joseph later told the Post, "and no university officials were involved in it." Pappe said that Bar-Joseph, though indeed a friend, had written "a total lie," in all likelihood under "heavy pressure" from the university.
Although the AUT resolution was limited to the above accusations, Pappe said the case prepared by the AUT contained two other principal issues.
The first, he said, "is the treatment of Arab students," while the second "is the closing down of the theater department because it put on political plays."
Elaborating on the first of these charges, Pappe claimed in a letter to The Guardian, written in support of the boycott prior to the AUT vote, that the university's Arab students "are prevented by draconian regulations from expressing their anger and frustration at what had been and is done against their people."
Pressed to give concrete examples of these "draconian regulations," he offered the following three examples: First, Pappe said that Arab students guilty of breaking university rules are punished more severely than Jewish students who are similarly culpable. Arab students' chief offense, he said, was waving the Palestinian flag on campus.
Second, he said Arab students have been forbidden since the year 2000 to stage political demonstrations on campus. (Pappe acknowledged that Jewish students have been equally forbidden to stage demonstrations.)
And third, he said that Arab students have not been allowed to erect a Christmas tree on campus.
Regarding Pappe's claim that the university closed its theater department, several sources at the university, including the dean of the Faculty of the Humanities and the chair of the theater department, told the Post that the theater department had never closed down and is active.