July 8, 2007
Mr. Moshe Goldberg
Internal Auditor, Tel Aviv University
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
RE: Political activity at Tel Aviv University under the pretext of a “Public Event” co-sponsored by the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation.
On June 28, 2007, I attended a "public event" with the title "Collapse of the Palestinian Authority? - Internal Crisis or Lose-Lose Situation", held in the Kes Hamishpat Auditorium on the premises of the Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University.
I was made aware of this event via a personal invitation mailed to me by the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation. To those attending the meeting it became obvious from its start that “public event” was an euphemism for a well-orchestrated “political event”, disguised as a free exchange of ideas, but, in fact, an attempt of political indoctrination by a fringe element of the Israeli Left in alliance with the Palestinian Authority and an external political body, associated with the German Social Democratic Party.
Based on the advertised Program of the event, I wrote to the Rector of Tel Aviv University on June 25, 2007, protesting against the politically biased nature of the meeting and suggesting that political meetings of this nature should not be held under the auspices of an academic unit, such as the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation.
After attending the meeting, I would like to bring to your knowledge the course of the events on June 28 and present first hand evidence for the claim that what took place was a blatant political manifestation coordinated by representatives of certain groups with a clearly defined political agenda. The writer of this protest is not and never was a member of any political party or politically oriented association and I would have written the same letter of protest if such type of “public event” would have been organized by persons of a political credo diametrically opposite to that of the organizers of the event of June 28.
I would like to draw your attention to the following facts which illustrate the exclusively political nature of the event:
1. The meeting took place on the premises of the Faculty of Law of Tel Aviv University but all the administrative personnel running the meeting belonged to the Peres Center for Peace.
2. In the room next to the Auditorium, through which all persons attending the meeting had to pass, personnel from the Peres Center used the occasion for distributing brochures and offering (against payment) publications of the Peres Center for Peace.
3. I could not identify any representative of Tel Aviv University or the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation among the organizers. Dr. Ron Pundak, who de facto ran the whole show, felt that this was embarrassing and stated that the present Head of the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation could not attend but a past Head, Professor Shimon Shamir was mentioned as being present in the audience. Another representative of Tel Aviv University was the house manager of the Trubowicz Building, who warned the organizers that the number of persons in the auditorium widely exceeded the number permitted by the fire regulations, but this warning was ignored.
4. Dr. Ron Pundak acted as the Chairman of the event, an act of self-appointment not appearing in the original program. He ran the meeting in a dictatorial, politically biased and arrogant manner which would be unacceptable in any academic forum. Dr. Pundak was the ultimate arbiter in deciding who can ask a question; whether a question was a question or a statement, and whether the question was properly expressed or not. After warning that statements by the public are not allowed, he permitted an unidentified Palestinian member of the audience to give a brief but eloquent speech attacking past and present Israeli governments.
5. The participants in the panel discussion were selected to result in a blatant imbalance. Dr. Ron Pundak, the Meretz MK Chaim Oron and the former Palestinian minister Kadoura Fares, were all representatives of the same view that most if not all the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the Israeli side. The only representative of a different view was Dr. Yom Tov Samia but he was outnumbered heavily by Pundak, Oron and Kadura, with Dr. Pundak, abandoning his role of Chairman, to join Oron and Fares in arguing against Dr. Samia.
6. Dr. Pundak allowed Dr. Samia to speak for a shorter time than that allocated to Mr. Fares and Mr. Oron. This was corrected in part only following a protest by Dr. Samia.
7. The public event was started by what was supposed to be a greeting by Mr. Hermann Buenz, who is the Director of the Israel Office of the "Friedrich Ebert Foundation". This Foundation is associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). It, thus, has an obvious political character. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation also has a branch in what is defined as the “Palestinian Territories”. Its main office is in East Jerusalem and they also have a branch in Gaza. This section of the Foundation is closely associated with Palestinian organizations, such as the "Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Centre (SHAML)", which supports an interpretation of UN Resolution 194 as meaning the “Right of Return” of refugees of 1947 to present day Israel (see web site: http://www.fespal.org). Mr. Buenz also took the liberty of inviting to the “public event” yet another clearly political figure, a member of the Defense Committee of the Bundestag, belonging to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).
8. The “talks” by Mr. Fares and Mr. Oron were almost identical. They could be summarized in one sentence: “The only solution to the conflict is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem and the full implementation of UN Resolution 194 (Mr. Oron avoided mentioning this critical issue)”. When Mr. Fares was asked what is his interpretation of this resolution, he suggested that this should be discussed after an agreement is reached on all other points.
9. Finally, one of the major issues in the “public event”, meant to be a balanced discussion of the “Collapse of the Palestinian Authority”, was the request by Mr. Fares and Mr. Oron that Mr. Marwan Barghouti be freed from prison, where he is currently serving five life sentences for murder and attempted murder. Mr. Fares told the audience how he hid Mr. Barghouti in his home, before his final arrest, and Mr. Oron reported about his frequent meetings with Mr. Barghouti in jail. No representative of the Israeli government was invited to present the facts which led to the sentencing of Mr. Barghouti.
10. It is especially disturbing that this farce of a “public event”, co-sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, took place while Mr. Shimon Peres was still active in political life as a Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Israel and, thus, one who is supposed to accept the independence and fairness of the Israeli judiciary system, which sent Mr. Barghouti to jail.
In summary, the “public event” of June 28, 2007 was a heavily biased, totally unbalanced political propaganda meeting, expressing the views of a certain sector of the Israeli Left and its European supporters. This sector has all the right to organize political meetings, as guaranteed by the laws of the State of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. The Peres Center for Peace is also a political body, representing the opinions of a certain sector of the Israeli population. These views can be brought to public debate in a variety of forums but it is a gross violation and exploitation of academic freedom to use the University Institute for Diplomacy as a “fig leaf” for political activity. The organizers of the event have also exploited the physical facilities of Tel Aviv University to the benefit of the Peres Center for Peace, which is clearly a non-academic body. Finally, they have not respected the elementary safety regulations of the University.
In May 2002, I wrote to you protesting against the use of the name Shimon Peres for naming what is called today the “University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation”. In checking the present web site of the Institute, one can find the statement that it was founded by the Peres Center for Peace. In addition to this, both the Executive Committee and the Academic Committee list Dr. Ron Pundak as a member. Two additional members of the Peres Center, Dr. Aliza Savir and Dr. Tsvia Walden, are also members of the Executive Committee. This is clearly incompatible with the character of an academic Institute which, by definition, must be free and independent of political bias. The presence of Dr. Pundak in two Institute committees, by itself, puts this in serious doubt. Of course, the private political views of Dr. Pundak are not the concern of Tel Aviv University, just as the views of any other member of the academic or administrative staff. However, Dr. Pundak is exploiting the nebulous character of the linkage between the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation and the Peres Center for Peace, and is using Tel Aviv University for advancing a political agenda. The same applies to the "Friedrich Ebert Foundation", which, as an avowed extension of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), is supporting a political agenda espoused by the SPD in a country other than Germany.
I am addressing this letter to you with the request to subject the facts described in it to a thorough and urgent investigation. It is imperative that an end should be put to the exploitation of the good will of this institution of higher learning and research, for political purposes. I am also asking for an investigation of the financial connections between the University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation and the Peres Center for Peace, in order to make sure that the academic independence of the University Institute is not jeopardized by its dependence on financial support from a political body.
Edgar Pick, M.D.,Ph.D.
Director, the Julius Friedrich Cohnheim - Minerva
Center for Phagocyte Research
Head, the Ela Kodesz Institute of Host Defense
against Infectious Diseases
Incumbent, the Roberts-Guthman Chair in Immunopharmacology
Sackler School of Medicine
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
Professsor Zvi Galil, President, Tel Aviv University
Professor Dany Leviatan, Rector, Tel Aviv University
Professor Moshe Semyonov, Head, University Institute of Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation
Maj. Gen. (res) Dr. Yom Tov Samia, Director General, Israel Corporation - Green Energy
Mr. Chaim Oron, Member of the Knesset, Meretz-Yahad
Dr. Ron Pundak, Peres Center for Peace
Mr. Hermann Buenz, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Israel Office