Hebrew University capitulates to right-wing pressure

May 16, 2017
Richard Kuper

Editorial: Weak-kneed at Hebrew University

In the spirit of the times, it’s enough to send a letter of protest or write a Facebook post to make events discussing the occupation disappear

Haaretz Editorial, 15 May 2017

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem claims it canceled an upcoming conference entitled “Fifty Years of Israeli Occupation and Palestinian Opposition: Where the Prisoners’ Movement is Headed,” because of logistical problems. But it is not unwarranted to suspect that the university, in the spirit of the times, bowed to right-wing pressure.

Members of a student association called “Israelis” at the university, identified with the Habayit Hayehudi party, proved what is already known: It is enough to send a letter of protest or write a post on Facebook to make events discussing the occupation disappear.

The conference, which was scheduled before the Palestinian prisoners began their hunger strike, was to have been an academic event with findings presented from a study by Dr. Maya Rosenfeld, a research fellow at the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Rosenfeld is studying the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and its impact on politics in the territories. Other scheduled speakers were Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former Palestinian Authority prisoner affairs minister; Radi Jarai of Al Quds University, a member of the board of the Abu Jihad Museum for Prisoner Movement Affairs; and Dr. Fahed Abu Alhaj, also of Al Quds U.

“Between Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, when we celebrate independence and the liberation of Jerusalem and parts of the homeland, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Truman Institute for Peace are organizing a conference with supporters of terrorism under the heading ‘50 years of occupation.’ … So leave aside the fact the ‘occupation’ is a mistaken term according to international law and a word with very clear political connotations. The very holding of the conference legitimizes support for terror under the whitewashed term ‘prisoners,’” stated the Facebook post made by the “Israelis.”

Hebrew University has now proven that it adopts the anti-democratic position of the government, which is working to place opposition to the occupation, and even discussion of it, beyond the pale.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The University of Haifa prohibited the distribution of a flier by the Hadash party’s student group because it referred to “ethnic cleansing that villages and cities underwent in ’48”; about a year ago, Ben-Gurion University’s president, Prof. Rivka Carmi, overturned a decision by the Department for Middle East Studies to grant the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding to the soldiers’ anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, because “the organization is not in the national consensus and the award of the prize could be understood as political bias.”

Even if Hebrew University manages to overcome the “logistical problems” and set a new date for the conference, the cancellation is a warning sign. Intellectual courage and devotion to free thought and spirit must guide the conduct of the universities. The price they will pay by surrendering to threats, direct or indirect, will be much greater. “Extortion payment” is not worth the irreversible damage that this does to an institution’s good name.


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