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Academic Freedom Under Assault in Israel

by ILAN PAPPE

Three weeks ago, my colleague in the University of Haifa, Dr. Asa d Gahnim of the department of political science suggested convening a conference on the 1948 historiography. We agreed to present in the conference the recent developments in both the Israeli and Palestinian historiography on the 1948 war and Nakbah. He and Salman Natur were asked to introduce the recent critical trends in the Palestinian side (with particular stress on works which deconstruct the roll of the traditional leadership and the Arab regimes in the 1948 war). In the second half of the day we wanted Udi Adiv, Teddy Katz and myself to present an updated picture of the historiographical debates on the 1948 war within the scholarly community in Israel. I asked my own division, the International Relations division, to host the meeting. The head of the division, Dr. Michael Gross agreed.

The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences

The conference was published in the usual sites as is common in the campus. Upon learning of the event, Professor Aryeh Ratner, the Dean of Social Sciences, phoned the head of the division and later me. He ordered Us–by direct instructions from the Rector and the President of the university–to cancel the conference. He clarified that he will not allow a conference which included Udi Adiv. Adiv in the early 1970s was accused and found guilty for spying for the Syrians and sat in jail for that allegation. After his release, in the early 1980s, he finished a Ph. D. thesis in the University of London, under the supervision of Professor Sami Zubadia, one of the world leading scholars on the Middle East. His thesis was about the Zionist historiography and particularly on the 1948 historiography . He was then appointed as a lecturer in the Open University of Israel, a position he holds until today. I clarified all these details to Ratner. He told me this is of no interest and that the conference will not take place. He also explained he would send an official letter claiming that I have not filled correctly the forms needed for the convening of a conference. The same dichotomy between what would be officially written in the letters and the real reasons for the cancellation was explained to Dr. Gross (on the phone) I asked what would happen if I would properly refill the forms and was told that this would not change the decision, as its source was ideological and not administrative. He also told us that this was not his own policy, but that of the president of Haifa University, Professor Yehuda Hayut.

In the university codex there is indeed reference for the procedures of conference convention. Like many other procedures it has never been implemented in the university ever since its foundation in the early 1970s. After consulting some people who were experts on the codex, it was suggested to me that if the conference is a departmental symposium there is no need for such a procedure to take place. So the conference was re-defined as a departmental symposium. A room was ordered, a day was set, and invitations sent.

The President of the University

On May 22, at 14:00, the lectures and the audience came to hall 715 in the university. The doors were locked. In the corridor stood the chief of security forces in the university and ten of his henchmen, all armed with pistols and walki-talkies. I was pushed into a side room by the chief and his lieutenant and handed a personal letter from the president, Yehuda Hayut. This was done in front of my wife and my colleagues, who watched helplessly the macabre scene. The letter said that my actions were a severe breach of the university codex and hence the room was blocked and the event cancelled. The chief explained to me that I would not be allowed to conduct the event in any other part of the campus. Outside the corridor, my wife heard two other lieutenants of the chief informing the president in their communication network , we caught him . They also said to each other, high time: they should do the same to all the leftist lectures in the university .

The Historiography

The participants and myself went to a cafeteria. The chief explained to me that if we talk sitting, but not standing, he would not regard it as a conference. We followed the orders and conducted what to my mind was one of the best critical symposiums on the 1948 historiography.

The University Spokesperson: The local newspaper in Haifa, Kol Bo, under the headline Silencing the Voices reported the event. The university spokesperson responded: the conference was not up to academic standards of Haifa university (indeed it was not).

Two reports

In the internal network of the university there were only two references to the event:

One by Dr. Yuval Yunai from the Department of Sociology he wrote:

It’s also a shame that on the same day that we made this — may I say — pioneering step, the university management banned another event from taking place. The dept. of international relations wanted to discuss the historiography of 1948, but my friend and colleague, the Dean of the my faculty, decided to use a doubtful prerogative and to ban the participation of Dr. Udi Adiv, a sociologist who wrote on the 1948 war, because of the sins he committed many years ago and for which he paid abundantly in many years of incarceration. Many people didn’t like the composition of that event and its apparent challenge to the decision about Teddy Katz’ MA thesis (Katz himself was supposed to talk too). Such objection is legitimate, but preventing the event by an instruction from above is against the academic spirit and freedom, even if Deans have this authority (which is also legally questionable). In any case, it’s against the necessity to compromise and to heal the wounds of conflicts and hostilities.

While the circle of violence runs amok around us, can’t we, here, in our campus with its unique composition, show the citizens of Israel another way of living together, not side by side, but really together?

Yuval (speaking on his behalf and not necessarily reflecting the feelings of all Forum Smol members.)

Professor Micha Leshem from the Department of Psychology wrote:

Can anyone explain why on earth the University found fit to ban a seminar of Faculty and students and invited speakers? I understand the doors of the meeting room were locked, and security personnel on hand in great numbers to accompany the participants away.

Such an action is inexcusable in a University, and surely requires a bold and convincing explanation from our University authorities. I fear that the good name of our university will again be questioned by our colleagues and the media–might it not have been wiser to let the meeting take place and its organizers take responsibility for its consequences, if any?

How parochial can the University of Haifa be? I suppose the next step will be for the Seminar to take place in one of our less prejudicial and more Academically orientated sister institutions. Either way we are left with mud on our faces. Micah

Conclusions:

1. This is not an isolated event. It is part of a daily reality in the campus that reflects and represents the overall demise of basic civic and human rights in Israel. The shooting of journalists and the assassination of human rights activists in the West Bank on the one hand, and the reign of terror and intimidation in the campus, on the other, are part and parcel of the same phenomena.

2. This episode illustrates forcefully why the boycott of Israeli academia abroad is justified, not just as part of the overall pressure on the Jewish state to end its brutal occupation, but also as a warning to the scholarly community in Israel that its protracted moral cowardice has a price tag on it. As long as this academia goes on exercising a reign of intimidation and tyranny in its own campuses, and is silent about the destruction of academic life in the occupied territories, it can not be part of the enlightened and progressive world, to which it wants eagerly to belong.

3. My colleagues who still find it difficult to support or show solidarity, for some reasons, fail to learn the historical lessons of the past. Today it is me, tomorrow it is them. Many of them come from families who experienced the same incremental process of silencing in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain and the military regimes of Latin America. They still live in self-denial, believing it will never happen to them.

As in the past, I ask you to express your indignation and protest and react in any way you deem appropriate, not for my sake, but for the sake of all those who are victimized by the present trends and ideologies in the state of Israel: the Palestinians under occupation, the minority within the country, and the few dissenting voices inside the Jewish society. Such a voice, in the end of the day, will be a valuable contribution to peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

ILAN PAPPE teaches history at Haifa University and is among the most prominent of the historians who write about 1948. Pappe is the author of “The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951.”

 

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