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Tel Aviv University
Tanya Reinhart complains after taking early retirement: "The University of Tel Aviv Embittered my Life" Poor Baby!

                                by Sagi ElbazTwo days before she left the country for good, Professor TanyaReinhart explained, to the _Tel Aviv_ daily, what brought herto this life-changing decision. Everything began after she signed a petition supporting thePalestinian struggle and calling for sanctions against Israeliacademe.Since then, according to her, the university's attitude to herchanged 180 degrees: "The plotting against me went on for threeyears."Now she hopes to begin a new chapter in her life -- overseas,far from this country's criminal attitude to the Palestinian people,and far from the university's chilly attitude to her."The one thing that still binds me to this place is the struggle."The university rejects her arguments.Professor Tanya Reinhart will not read the following article inIsrael.  The interview with her, last Saturday evening, took placejust two days before she left the country for good, together with herhusband, the poet Dr. Aharon Shavtai, after four complicated years.Until recently, Professor Reinhart, a teacher of literary theory atTel Aviv University and a leader in the world of linguistics, was oneof an elite circle of respected members of the Tel Aviv Universityfaculty.  However, as she says, everything changed four years ago,when she put her signature on a British petition that supported thePalestinian struggle and called for the imposition of sanctions onIsraeli academe.Professor Reinhart, a well-known left-wing activist, believes with allher heart that since she signed that petition, Tel Aviv University,which she had served for thirty years, turned its back to her.  "TelAviv University made my life miserable", she says, in an attempt toexplain what brought about her by-no-means simple decision to abandonher life here and start anew overseas -- far from where Israel, in herwords, commits criminal acts against the Palestinian people, andfarther yet from the Tel Aviv academic community's cold shoulder.A divergent voice : "All my life I knew I'd stay here"June 14, 2006 was not a routine day for Professor Reinhart.  On thatday, she stood, for the last time, in front of a class of herstudents, and in a voice choked with tears announced her departure --from the university as well as from Israel itself.  Until that moment,and for course of the semester, she had kept a straight face, if in asomewhat detached way.  But at that moment all the years offrustration came to a head and it was no longer possible to hold backthe emotions which took hold of her.Professor Reinhart joined the teaching staff of Tel Aviv University in1976, upon completion of her PhD in the United States (under NoamChomsky).  She traces the change in the university's attitude towardher back to the petition she signed (a petition promulgated by Britishleft-wing activists)."It began about one year after the beginning of the second Intifada",she said this week.  "Back then, I was very active: I wrote a greatdeal, especially for the international news media.  I wrote toughessays that a lot of people didn't like, and then, in 2002, I signedthat British petition that called for an end to the Europeanoragnization's cooperation with Israeli universities.  I expressed mysupport for the academic boycott within other forums as well -- aneconomic/institutional boycott, not a personal one.  That was afterthe events in Jenin."The university's reaction was not long in coming.  "And then,gradually, invisibly, the university began to make my life miserable:assistant professors I recommended for promotion weren't promoted.  Itbecame a fact", she says calmly.  The linguistics department decidedthat I would no longer recommend assistant professors for promotion,or chair promotion committees, lest I damage people's careers.Previously, a letter of recommendation from me was an asset; now itbecame a liability to the people working with me.""Over the years, I'd divided my time between Holland [as a lecturer inUtrecht -- author] and Israel, so that I worked in Tel Aviv onesemester a year.  In 2002, the university administration made a rulethat prohibited me from taking a leave of more than one month evenduring the summer vacation, and got me to sign onto that.  I didn'thave time to turn to tribunals and be around for legal proceedings.So I gave in, and signed.  At the end of the process, they let me knowthey were also rescinding my privilege to hold the joint appointmentwith Utrecht.  It's that kind of subterfuge that went on for threeyears, until I decided that I couldn't take it any longer, that Iwould just leave."The decision to emigrate was not a simple one for her.  "All my life Iknew that I would stay here, that this is the place for me to live",she says.  "I considered myself closely tied both to the country, andto the political struggle.  At first I was very sad; it was very hardfor me.  I couldn't believe I was actually going to emigrate, but at acertain stage I came to accept it.  I loved Tel Aviv in a verypersonal way; I was tied to it.  In the 80s, when I began teaching,I'd hang out at bars, at coffee houses, at clubs on the beach.  Iloved the sea and every thing connected to Tel Aviv."Her change of attitude came with the intensifying Israeli-Palestiniancrisis.  Professor Reinhart expressed her opinions throughtough-minded political activism, outside the warm confines of thegeneral consensus.  In 2005, her book _Lies about Peace_ wastranslated to Hebrew.  In it, she shattered the conventional wisdom asregards the failure of negotiations with the Palestinians, underminingthe accepted Israeli narrative which blamed Yasser Arafat for thefailure of the Camp David talks and the outbreak of the secondIntifada.The deteriorating political situation only strengthened her decisionto emigrate from the country she loved so much.  "Since the intifada,I could no longer participate in the party atmosphere that alwayscharacterised Tel Aviv, when I knew about the slaughter that we werecommitting everywhere in the territories", she says, levellingdifficult accusations -- difficult all the more so for the averageIsraeli's ears -- about Israel's responsibility for the situation."Just a few kilometers from here, people are rotting in prisons,trapped between walls, while the Israeli army in Gaza kills wheneverit wants to.  All the things I loved so much over here -- thelandscape, the people, the spirit -- no longer carry the same meaning.They no longer speak to me.'I am the struggleDuring the course of the interview, nothing about Professor Reinhardbetrays the fact that in just two days she is to separate herself fromthe Israeli experience.  In her Tel Aviv home, the many books andrecords are still in their places, the household appliances have notyet been packed up, and everything is still orderly.  The tone of hervoice and the expression on her face also say nothing about the changeabout to take place in her life and about the coming transition to anew chapter in her life -- a chapter she would skip if only she couldcontinue teaching at the university in the way she once did and ifonly she could reconcile herself to the Israeli political reality."All my life I believed I would remain here, that I would work here, Iwould live here and continue to struggle to make this a place worthliving in.  I've had many opportunities to emigrate; this isn't thefirst time I've had the opportunity to get a job at a foreignuniversity.  I considered myself very connected to Israel and to thestruggle.  I didn't just make a sudden decision to emigrate.  First Idecided to leave the university, and then I had to think about movingto another place of work.  It was during that process that I came tofeel I had to emigrate.""The University of Tel Aviv is the best place for linguistics; there'sno other place like it in Israel, and that professional angle isimportant to me.  I didn't want to be just another teacher at'university high'.  And I assume that because of my politicalbackground, no Israeli university would take me anyway."Last Monday, she got on board a plane to Amsterdam, together with herhusband, Dr. Aharon Shavtai, a poet and lecturer in literature at TelAviv University, and the brother of the late author Yaakov Shavtai(the couple has no mutual children).  They will spend the second halfof the academic year in the United States, where she has been offereda prestigious post at prestigious New York University.The difficult events in Lebanon caught her just a moment before shewas to pack her bags and say good-bye.  Most political leftists, whohad criticised Israel's policy in the territories, lined up behind thegovernment in the current battle over Lebanon.  This does not reallyimpress Professor Reinhart.  Here too, her position is very clear, onemight even say outrageous."Israel could have reacted in a limited, localized way; we could haveconsidered an exchange of prisoners, as we did in the past", she sayswith determination.  "Those were the options, but Israel did notchoose any one of them.  Instead, the government declared all-out waron Lebanon.  The government left no room for diplomacy, fornegotiation.  Israel initiated a war.  It was clear from the startthat an attack like that would elicit a reaction from Hizbollah.  Itwas clear that the Israeli action had been planned for a long time."On the question of whether Israel was looking for a pretext to launcha war, she answers unequivocally: "Yes, that was clearly the case,that's how the [first] Lebanon war began too.  Then too, they lookedfor a justification to launch a war.  Then, it was the attemptedassassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador in London.  Israelhas been waiting a long time to start this current operation, wherethe opportunity to do so meant that the international situation wasripe.  Bush's policy is to apply force against any and every instanceof Arab resistance to American control."Over the years, Professor Reinhart has supported many leftistorganizations, and especially the Women's Coalition for Peace.  Besidethat, she joined in signing petitions identified with the radicalleft, among them a position paper, by university and college staff,that called on soldiers to refuse service in the occupied territories.About two years ago she added her signature to a petition that calledfor the release of Tali Fakhima, and last week she signed, togetherwith a list of artists and writers, against the background of therecent events in Lebanon, a letter entitled "Israel is committingwidespread war crimes."About her political activity, she recounts enthusiastically, that "Theonly thing that really still binds me to this place is the struggle.I participated in the struggle and in the demonstrations against thebuilding of the wall.  In 2003, in the village of Maskha, Israeli andPalestinian activists built a squatters' camp to protest day and nightagainst the building of the wall.  That gave us a great deal of hope,because it was the first time in the history of the occupation thatIsraelis and Palestinians -- people, not leaders -- struggledtogether.""A very nice struggle developed there, but in the two years sincethen, the army's repression has become brutal.  Protestors are exposedto huge amounts of tear gas, people get injured, they throw concussiongrenades at you.  The protest in Bil'in could have been huge.  Hugenumbers of Israelis and Palestinians could have arrived there if thearmy had allowed it.  Therefore what was left was a group of youngpeople, very strong and determined.""As far as I am concerned, the only form of existence possible inIsrael today is the struggle.  The struggle requires a democraticcontext, and in my opinion Israeli society is not exactly democratic.There is a formal democracy, there are elections, but in practice it'sentirely hollow."Her sharp criticism does not spare the top leadership either, whetheron the right or on the left: "The problem is that the leadership liesall the time.  Every since Oslo they've been lying when they've saidthat the intention was to leave the territories.  Rabin had thatintention, and then Barak and Sharon and now Olmert.  For thirteenyears we have "intended" to leave the territories.  The differencebetween me and other people in my camp is the belief in this lie.They believed Rabin, even though they saw the number of settlementsdouble.  After that they believed Barak, Sharon and Olmert, thoughless so.  I insist on analyzing reality and on calling things whatthey are -- and here I am an outsider.""The citizens here have no way to influence policy, but the truth isthat the government itself has no influence.  The prevailing force inIsraeli socity is the army.  Governments come and go, but the army isthe one stable force that determines policy.  Peretz is a marionettein the hands of army brass pulling its strings.  Decisions are made bythe army, and the government just ratifies them.  It's been this wayfor years already.  It doesn't matter if the Prime Minister is orisn't a general; the army is the leading force."We alone are guiltyWithin the framework of Reinhart's willingness to slaughter the mostsacred of cows, she can show understanding for Hizbollah'smotivations.  "Hizbollah always argued that the only reason Israelleft southern Lebanon in 2000 was the resistance, but that Israelintended to return and recapture southern Lebanon", she says.  "Rightnow, it looks like this is exactly what Israel is trying to do.  Thepresent war in Lebanon, exactly like the one of 1982, is not a war ofdefense.  From the army's point of view the purpose is to establish anatural border with Lebanon, on the Litani River.  In order to achievethis goal, it's necessary to create a 'new order' in Lebanon.""The logical thing for Israel, in my opinion, was to agree to anexchange of prisoners and to try solving the border controversy overthe Shab'a Farms.  The all-out war on Lebanon is not justified.  Thisis not an acceptable reaction to a border violation.  It's not rightto expell civilians from their villages, even though I agree thatthere was a violation here by Hizbollah -- exactly as there have beenpast violations by Israel.  Israel's objective has, even today,remained identical to what it was in 1982 on the eve of the Lebanonwar."An attempt to object to the other side's policies is unfruitful,something that is most striking when she speaks about the politicalreality in Gaza and on the West Bank.  "I have no doubt that we are toblame in this conflict", she says.  "Since 1967, we have beenoccupying the Palestinian territories and we have not been willing torelinquish them.  In '88 the Palestinians recognized Israel andsettled for a state within the '67 borders.  Since then, the blamefalls on us absolutely.  I deplore Palestinian terror, but sinceJanuary 2005 all the Palestinian groups, except for Islamic Jihad,have declared a cease-fire.  We are the attackers presenting ourselvesas the attacked."The changes on the Palestinian front do not make her more moderate.Here too she expresses different points of view -- anomalous ones, oras some would say, those of a dreamer.  About the convergence plan shesays: "In practice, Israel has exchanged the previous form ofoccupation in Gaza, for a new one.  There is no more need to have anarmy in there, to defend settlements.  The idea is to turn Gaza into aprison surrounded by the Israeli army.  The armed forces have completecontrol in the air, in the sea and on the land; they can also go in.""In the last few months, there's an ongoing, massive bombardment ofGaza day and night; up to 5,000 artillery shells have been fired, permonth, on Gaza.  Israel has not fulfilled a single line of theborder-crossings agreement which holds that Gaza will at least be ableto maintain economic ties with the West Bank and Egypt.  We aren'tletting them have any sort of independent economy.  They're being heldin a huge prison, deprived of any chance of survival.  On the otherhand, this current form of occupation is cheaper for us, since fromthe moment that Israel declared it's not the occupying force anymore,it shed any responsibility for the well-being of the inhabitants.""An occupied people, with no hope and cut off from the outside world,will always find a way to fight its oppressor", she believes.  "ThePalestinians in Gaza have found such a way to fight, by means of theKassam [rockets] which cause little real damage but that's theiranswer to the war Israel has declared against them.  There's no way tostop the Kassams as long as you persist with the occupation of Gaza.Under international law, too, an occupied people has the right to tryand fight an occupation."Professor Reinhart also has an interesting theory about the Israelireaction in Gaza, a theory independent, to her mind, from thePalestinian attack in Kerem Shalom and the kidnapping of the soldierGilad Shalit.  "What's happening in Gaza now has no connection to thekidnapping of Gilad Shalit", she says determinedly.  "This issomething that began long before that.  Israel prepared a campaign towipe out the Hamas regime.  At first, Israel tried to bring down theHamas government by starvation, and after that they tried to produce acivl war.  Nothing worked.""The military operation in Kerem Shalom and the kidnapping of Shalitcame after a month of massive bombardments that killed manyPalestinian civilians (supposedly by mistake).  For all practicalpurposes, in the seventeen months since Hamas declared a cease fire inJanuary 2005, Hamas did not take part in a single act of terrorism.No group connected to Hamas even participated in launching Kassams, inspite of the fact that such launches are not an act of terrorism.There is no solution short of an end to the occupation, and thatIsrael is not prepared to do."Professor Reinhart wants to emphasize that the political reality inthe territories has changed: Hamas is now the one who represents thePalestinian people, and not the chairman of the Palestinian Authority,Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).  "For the first time, the Palestinianpeople have a representative that declares its intention to representits people rather than just to think about how to collaborate withIsrael.  Over the years we've become accustomed to the idea that thePalestinian authority's role is to ensure Israel's security.""Hamas says: 'You also need to recognize us and we don't see any signof that.'  We're talking about an independent government that isresponsible to the Palestinian people alone.  In practice, Israel isnot prepared to speak with even Mahmoud Abbas, despite the fact he wasprepared to surrender and collaborate.  Hamas won't do that, andthat's what the war in Gaza is about."In closing, Professor Reinhard wants to emphasize that she intends tocontinue her struggle from overseas: "I will continue to be activefrom abroad as well, through my writing, and in the desire and hopethat I will return to live here."The University of Tel Aviv's commentThe university administration this week refused to comment onProfessor Reinhart's points.  The official comment was: "Theinaccuracies are such that the University of Tel Aviv does not see fitto comment on them."

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