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The head of the School of Communications at Sapir College, Naama Shefi, endorses the anti-Israel Arab lecturer at her school who refused to allow a reserve soldier to enter the classroom


An unacademic response


By Na'ama Shefi

The rash outburst by my colleague at Sapir Academic College, Nizar Hassan, who barred a student doing army reserve duty from coming to class in uniform and with his gun, has outraged people. Hassan exploited his position as a lecturer to convey an anti-army political message. The student was fulfilling his duty and due to time constraints chose to come to campus in uniform rather than stopping at home to change.

In the eyes of his critics, Hassan crossed every possible line. He used the academic platform for an unrelated purpose and undermined the fine boundary between freedom of expression and the duty of academics to professional ethics, which makes a distinction between their personal opinions and their academic attitudes, or in this case their work as creative artists.

It should not be overlooked that Hassan used one of the few platforms available to him as an Arab-Israeli intellectual. He did so as a director who is training young directors, and as usual he challenged them with his harsh statement.

But Hassan did not perceive that he violated the trust placed in him as someone who is supposed to fight for the freedom of ideas and a high standard of ethics. As such, he should have accepted his student's decision to do his army reserve service and to choose a directing workshop over a shower. Hassan also bit the hand that feeds him. Part of his salary, like mine, comes from institutions of law enforcement such as the Israel Prisons Service, which enable their employees to attain an education in addition to performing their wearying jobs - which should be paired with self-enrichment and open-minded thinking. However critical he may be in his work at a public institution, Hassan is obligated to accept anyone, with or without a uniform, veil, wig, shaved head or skull cap.

Hassan's outburst coincided with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's presentation of her End of Days scenario - itself not entirely well-considered. In her vision, Arab citizens of Israel could benefit from the opportunity to find national expression through the neighboring state of Palestine. On the happy day on which the status of non-Jews with blue (Israeli) identity cards is the same as Jews living in New York, for example, Hassan, too, will probably be less disturbed by the presence of students in uniform in his classroom.

To Hassan, a civilian whose rights are equal on paper only, his student represented the entire Israeli army, an army whose ethics are too frequently called into question. He did not address the question of what the student did during his reserve duty, focusing instead on the connection between a uniform as a representative symbol of injustice and academia as a representative symbol of freedom of thought, and artistic work as a representative symbol of freedom of expression. Along the way, he injured the freedom of choice of his student as well as one of the most sacred institutions of Israeli Jewish society.

If Hassan sought to deepen his students' political awareness, he should have used his platform as a teacher to urge them to respond to his comments and to exhaust the possibilities of ideological pluralism - not to sit in class, silenced, ignoring the hurtful remarks of their teacher and the embarrassment of their fellow student, but rather to think, to formulate a position and to take the risk of debate. And not to maintain their silence even if they see soldiers who exploit the uniform as a cover for immoral actions.

Hassan contributed to the lack of debate and the exchange of opinions in Israeli society in general and in the education system in particular. His anger, which remained suspended in space, without a response, exposes the reluctance of Israelis to confront hard truths. The shouts of his critics and his supporters perpetuate the non-dialogue: They remain a collection of statements that do not attempt to enter into a discussion.

The writer is the head of the Communications School at Sapir Academic College.

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