Sunday, June 11, 2006
Israel's Academic Fifth Column
Theory, reality at Tel Aviv University
Why do extremist professors who invited PLO terrorist to speak now oppose
address by Shaul Mofaz?
On April 24, 2006 thirty professors at Tel Aviv University wrote a
scathing letter of protest to the deans of the school, decrying the choice
of speaker at the opening of its new Center for Iran Studies.
Of the appearance of Shaul Mofaz, Israel.s former minister of defense, the
professors frothed, in part, .In a more enlightened university, the
members of the faculty would be ashamed to host him.; .the least that an
Israeli academic institution can do today.is not to invite people that are
identified with (Israel.s supposedly criminal) behavior,. because an
.invitation provides a seal of approval..
These professors have the right to be extremists, but they do not have the
right to be hypocrites.
Shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, many of these same professors
invited Faisal al-Husseini to address a Tel Aviv University conference
called .Is There Anything Left to Speak About?.
Husseini was a founding member of the PLO in 1964 and, as such, had the
blood of hundreds of civilians on his hands. During the first intifada he
was appointed the PLO.s first Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, in which
role he became the darling of the international media, and chief apologist
for the murders of 160 Israelis during that terror wave.
He was also in charge of PLO spin during the first Gulf War when that
organization declared its support for Saddam Hussein. His invitation to
the conference was an attempt by these professors to rehabilitate the PLO,
precisely at the peak of its malevolence.
In April, 2001, shortly before his death, Mr. Husseini described the Oslo
Accords as a "Trojan Horse," and said that he told PLO leaders in the
early 1990s, ..climb into the horse and don't question what type of
material the horse is made of...
Ten years later, after Ehud Barak.s capitulations at Camp David and the
outbreak of the second intifada, Husseini said, .everyone entered into the
horse and the horse entered into the walled-in city. Now, the time has
come for us to say: .Come out of the horse...
Freedom of speech
Because the cynicism in Husseini.s posturing as a moderate was transparent
in 1991 to anyone familiar with his background, a large protest against
his appearance on campus was planned. I was a student at Tel Aviv
University.s Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at the time, and planned
to join the demonstration.
One of my professors, Yisrael Gershoni, was among those who had extended
the invitation to Husseini, and he orated at passionate length to me about
the sanctity of free speech in the academy, the one space where dialogue
should never be censored.
Gershoni then challenged me. It is not enough, he said, that I agree in
principle that communication should be unimpeded on campus. I must service
this belief myself, he said, by ensuring that protestors, even if I
sympathize with them, do not succeed in thwarting the conference.
I assented to his request that I serve as a security guard to prevent
protestors from gaining entrance to the auditorium where they might
seriously disrupt Husseini.s presentation.
The night of the conference, I positioned myself, with the rest of the
security detail, between attendees and protestors. I believed in their
right to protest, and I agreed with the substance of their complaint, but
I also believed in the right of even our enemies to free expression in the
This week, scanning the list of the thirty Tel Aviv University professors
whose letter excoriated the school for allowing Mofaz to speak, one of
whom actually became violent in the auditorium, I recognized the names of
professors who had organized the Husseini appearance.
I was shocked when I saw the name Yisrael Gershoni, the same professor who
convinced me that the right to free speech on campus . even for one's
opponents . was a supreme value, and should not just be acknowledged but
actually defended by placing one.s own body in harm.s way.
Now, with the shoe on the other foot, he has signed a letter stating that
.the participation of the minister of defense as the keynote speaker at
the opening of this conference.must not be permitted..
Professor Gershoni: I still believe in the principle that you taught me in
1991. I am saddened that you no longer do.
Robert Jancu, the former National Executive Director of the Zionist
Organization of America, is an attorney in private practice in New York
Et tu, Hebrew U?
Israel can't even get a fair hearing at the country's flagship university
.What is a Jewish state, anyway?. my professor asked the class last week.
.Is it like a Jewish chair? I mean, I know what a Jewish person is, but
how can a state be Jewish?.
A few minutes later, the same professor compared Israel to apartheid South
Africa, calling it a .fake democracy.. Not for the first time at Hebrew
University.s Rothberg International School, I squirmed in my chair. Was
this a course on Israeli politics, or a Hamas press conference?
David and Goliath
The following day, another professor of mine informed students that Israel
has no reason to make its case in the international arena. .You look at
the occupied territories and Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are
David,. the professor said. .Why bother trying to explain anything Israel
does if this is all people see?. The rhetorical question was followed by
silence from the class.
My classmates, both Jewish and non-Jewish, come to Jerusalem from
Argentina, Taiwan, and a score of countries in between. Prior to studies
in Israel, many of them received information about Israel from biased CNN
coverage and anti-Israel divestment and boycott movements back home. Some
classmates. questions early in the year shed light on their impressions of
.Did the Jews murder Arabs at Deir Yassin because they were hungry for
blood, or was there an actual reason?. a young German woman asked the
professor in my friend.s Palestine 1948 class. .Since a Jew murdered
Rabin, we can say Jews don.t really want peace, right?. asked a young man
from Azerbaijan during an introductory class on Israeli history.
It.s clear that some of my classmates would benefit from a balanced,
multi-sided examination of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Many will leave
Jerusalem to become journalists, diplomats and teachers around the world.
Unfortunately, some will depart with the words of professors ringing in
their ears: .Israel is a fake democracy. Israel is an apartheid state.
Israel has no excuse for its actions vis-.-vis the Palestinians..
Not all professors at my school ignore historical and political context
for Palestinian suffering and Israeli actions like the security fence.
Some have impressed me and other .pro-Israel. classmates with their
ability to distill the conflict.s complexities and foster reasonable
discussion of the issues.
Others, however, let their political beliefs determine classroom
discourse, such as one professor.s labeling the Israeli government a
.colonialist regime. and another referring to an outspoken, kippah-clad
student as .Lieberman..
Obviously, professors are entitled to their opinions, and to elucidate
them in class; however, there is a line between political commentary and
.Israel-bashing,. as one classmate described some professors. behavior.
Labeling Israel an aggressive .Goliath. victimizing the helpless
Palestinian .David. distorts the conflict.s true scope . that of a tiny
island of Jewish sovereignty surrounded by more than a few genocidal
extremists. Like every democracy on Earth, Israel is flawed. Does this
mean the Jewish state has no more intrinsic value than a .Jewish chair,.
as my professor implied?
I respect the academic freedom and vigorous discourse abundant at my
school; however, the international division of Israel.s flagship
university bears a special responsibility to students and supporters. If
Israel cannot receive a fair hearing in the hallowed halls of Mt. Scopus,
where can it?
The writer is a graduate student at Hebrew University.s Rothberg
International School. His .pro-Israel. blog can be read at