Professor Yossi Schwartz, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is co-chairperson on the board of directors of the Alternative Information Center
Written by Uri Yacobi Keller, Hebrew University, MA student at The Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine
I. Academic Boycott
The idea of an academic boycott of Israel first emerged in 2002 as part of the growing boycott and divestment campaign against Israel, itself a part of the struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the violation of Palestinian human and national rights. Compared to other types of boycott, the academic boycott has gathered a relative amount of widespread support amongst academic unions and organizations, primarily in Great Britain. Not surprisingly, this relative success has stirred a public debate and opposition to the boycott, mostly by pro-Israeli organizations and academics. The campaign for academic boycott has wavered under these pressures and various degrees and measures of boycott have since been approved and then often canceled by academic organizations. The arguments in favor of this kind of boycott have relied largely on the facts of the Israeli occupation and the idea of pressuring Israel through its academic world; often, they have not utilised details relating to the specific academic institutions that they call to boycott.
Through this report, however, the Alternative Information Center (AIC) aims to inform and empower the debate on an academic boycott by giving information not on Israeli violence and violations of international law and human rights, but on the part played in the Israeli occupation by the very academic institutions in question. The report demonstrates that Israeli academic institutions have not opted to take a neutral, apolitical position toward the Israeli occupation but to fully support the Israeli security forces and policies toward the Palestinians, despite the serious suspicions of crimes and atrocities hovering over them. Any who argue either for or against an academic boycott against Israeli institutions, we believe, should know and consider not only facts regarding the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), but also the ways in which the Israeli academic institutions make political choices and actively take sides in the ongoing conflict.
This report deals with relevant facts about the connections between Israeli academic institutions and the occupation. It is doubtful that in the process of researching this report all facts relevant to the subject were uncovered, especially since some of the economic connections between academic institutions and private companies are actively hidden by the parties involved. The involvement of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation takes many forms and scopes, and not all Israeli academic institutions can be said to be involved on the same scale. However, all main Israeli academic institutions are involved in the occupation. Indeed, all major Israeli academic institutions, certainly the ones with the strongest international connections, were found to provide unquestionable support to Israel’s occupation. Some of the details depicted in this report are evidence of blunt and direct support to the occupation while others are more minor details, which, nonetheless, provide a clear indication of the political stance taken by academic institutions.
It should be noted that the Israeli security forces are the prime proponents of the occupation and therefore any aid given to them is considered here as support for the occupation. It is probable that universities in other countries may also occasionally support the local security forces. However the situation of the Israeli army is unlike that of other armies around the world and no support given to the Israeli security agencies can be defined as “neutral.”
. Overview of Academic Institutions in Israel
There are seven Israeli universities: The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Bar-Ilan Universities in Tel-Aviv, Haifa University and the Technion in Haifa, Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva and the Weizman Institute in Rechovot. The Israeli Open University, which is not attached to any specific geographical location in Israel, is also often considered a “university,” but as research is not a major part of its functi'on and its importance and prestige are nowhere near the other universities, we relegate it to the category of “non-university” academic institutes. There are numerous colleges and more minor institutes in Israel, a few of which have acquired a status and prestige rivaling that of the universities. Prime amongst those is the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), which is notorious for high student fees and rich private donors who show great generosity. The Israeli universities and the Interdisciplinary Center are probably the most important Israeli academic institutes in contact with foreign institutions, as well as the most respected within Israel itself, and therefore also the most important in the context of this report.
Throughout this publication we will refer to them often as the “main” Israeli academic institutes. Several of the Israeli academic institutions began even before the foundation of Israel itself. The Technion and Hebrew University were founded by the pre-state Jewish settlement, a part of the effort to prepare for the state to come. Eventually several Israeli universities, including the aforementioned and the Weizman Institute, became world renowned and greatly contributedto Israel’s economy and prestige.
The Israeli academic world enjoyed many years of governmental support and backing in tandem with the Israeli attempt to gain international legitimacy and recognition as part of the “western developed world.” As the Israeli economy moved towards knowledge dependent industries such as computer software and electronics, Israeli academic institutes became more and more valuable in all respects. The Israeli image gained substantial political prestige from the intellectual sphere that developed in Israeli academia.
With Israel’s change into a more neo-liberal society, funding for universities and other academic institutions started to decline. With less money and resources available from the government, universities rely increasingly on growing student tuition (which prompted student strikes and protests), budget cuts (which resulted, for example, in a prolonged lecturers’ strike) and funding from outside. This coincides with a process of “privatization” of higher education in Israel, with the founding of private colleges and institutes that usually offer studies in “practical” fields such as law or engineering, and which are beginning to compete with universities for students. This has resulted in a declining financial system for most Israeli universities and main academic centers.
Though many researchers in fields of humanities and more theoretical academic disciplines need little more than pen and paper to conduct their research, researchers in applied fields that generally yield the most profitable technological advances (and turn the most revenue for the universities themselves, and later for the Israeli economy) often require costly equipment and laboratories. The capital for the acquisition of such equipment is usually invested by foreign universities, private companies and donors.
A substantial percentage of all money invested in this way is usually directed to the university in general instead of to the research for which it is intended. In the current climate of declining government funding and financial instability, it may well be that Israeli universities are very much dependent on such external non-governmental investments.
The facts gathered regarding the involvement of Israeli academic institutions in the Israeli occupation are presented here, divided into chapters according to the type and target of involvement. This, we hope, presents a broad picture and highlights similarities and connections between political actions of the various institutions. A brief summary, divided by institution, can be found at the end of this report.
. Research and Development in Israeli Academic Institutions in Service of the Israeli Armed Forces
With the continuation of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and the deterioration of the economic situation within Israel, Israeli security forces often find themselves lacking in sufficient personnel. The Israeli government’s ability to financially support the army is gradually declining and the number of Israelis willing to be drafted is in decline.1 In order to successfully maintain the occupation, Israeli security forces are becoming heavily dependent on technological means and developments that facilitate a continuation of the occupation with less manpower and government support (this has encouraged, for instance, commercial companies to endorse specific Israeli military units).2 High tech advancements allow, on the one hand, the daily operation of instruments of occupation, such as checkpoints, with fewer soldiers, and, on the other hand, provide Israeli security industries new products to market and export to foreign countries, thus compensating for a lack of government funding and allowing the occupation to continue.
I I. Israeli Academic Institutions in Support of the Occupation According to Type of Involvement
Though the Israeli military maintains several internal units of research and development, primarily within the military intelligence corps, these cannot provide all of the army’s high tech needs. A major part of research and development for the security forces is done by private companies and academic institutions, often in cooperation with each other and the army itself.3
The Technion, the Israeli institution most renowned for applied sciences such as engineering and computer science, has all but enlisted itself in the military. The Technion, like most other Israeli universities, takes pride in projects of research and development conducted for the Israeli security forces.4 Examples of the more brutal of these are the development of a remote-controlled “D9” bulldozer used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses5 and the development of a method for detecting underground tunnels, specifically developed in order to assist the Israeli army in its continued siege on the Gaza Strip.6 The extent of cooperation between the Technion and Israeli military was demonstrated when the Technion opened a center for the development of electro-optics in complete partnership with Elbit, 7 one of the biggest Israeli private weapons’ research companies which is also heavily involved in development for the Israeli military.8
Though the Technion is the most notorious and prestigious academic institution that cooperates with the Israeli military in developing military technologies, it is not the only Israeli university to do so. A recent report by the student Palestinian Society of the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) revealed that Tel- Aviv University has participated in no less than 55 joint technological projects with the Israeli army, particularly in the field of electro-optics.9
It has hosted conventions about electro- optics10 and robotics11 in which weapons’ manufacturing companies have participated. Bar-Ilan University has also participated in joint research with the army, specifically in developing artificial intelligence for unmanned combat vehicles.12
Other academic institutes such as the Weizman Institute have also been involved in development in service of the Israeli army.13 Academic institutions such as the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya14 or Holon College15 take pride in the fact that their students later work in weapons manufacturing companies such as Elbit and RAFAEL. The Wingate Institute also has joint research projects with the Israeli security forces, although more related to physical fitness rather than to weapon development.16
An example of the deadly fruits of such cooperation was revealed during Israel’s 2009 military attacks against the Gaza Strip, when at least 29 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli unmanned aircraft.17
One of the problems in estimating the exact extent of academic participation in military research is that much of it is done without formally labeling it as such. Private commercial companies have become an important part of the universities’ structure by investing money into the universities and becoming directly involved on the academic level.
Numerous Israeli students turn to academic studies in engineering or computer science, hoping for a career in the lucrative high-tech sector. In studying for advanced degrees it has become a common practice in several Israeli universities for M.A. and Ph.D. students to have a university professor as a formal instructor, but someone from outside the university as their practical, de-facto instructor. This external person is usually a researcher or manager in a commercial high-tech company who guides the student in research which is heavily connected to that of the company.
Though it is difficult to detect this type of involvement, as it is rarely written or publicized in official documents, indicators of this process can be found in the cooperation and connections between academic institutes and companies such as Elbit, RAFAEL and other weapon developers. This is most apparent in the Technion, which, in addition to the aforementioned, has also trained engineers specifically for work in Elbit18 and RAFAEL19 and where students have even dealt directly in the development of complex weapons in the process of researching their academic theses.20
In June 2008 Elbit publicly announced that in each of the next five years it would be awarding half a million dollars in grants to Technion research students.
21 This unusual publication of the research sponsorship indicates the special relationship between the Technion and Elbit.
On a higher level, it is interesting to note that Yossi Ackerman, President and CEO of Elbit, was granted an honorary Ph.D. by the Technion22 while Haim Russo, manager of the El-Op branch of Elbit (which specializes in military equipment) had been appointed to the Technion’s quaternion.23 The Technion’s management even publicized meeting and discussing research cooperation with Elbit.24 However, while the Technion seems to publicly strengthen these connections, it is not the only one.
Elbit, RAFAEL and other weapons’ manufacturers are frequent participants in virtually every “employment fair” (occasions where the companies send representatives to the campus in order to recruit students) in many major universities25 and the universities themselves rarely forget to mention the company names when advertising these fairs.
Michael Federmann, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Elbit, is also a member of the Board of Governors of both the Weizman Institute and the Hebrew University. This fact indicates that these two highly prestigious institutes, renowned in scientific fields relating to high-tech, may also be deeply involved with weapons’ research companies.
The Weizman Institute also cooperated with Elbit to create a special electro-optics research oriented science program for high school students in Elbit factories.26
When announcing the aforementioned research grants by Elbit to the Technion, Technion President Yitzhak Apeloighe said: “This new program that we are launching and the yearly donation that Elbit Systems is going to give [...] are an example of the opulent cooperation between the Technion and the industry.”
Elbit President and CEO Ackerman said in relation to the same event: “The investment in research and development is one of the main factors in Elbit’s success so far, and it is vital in the world competition of security industries.”27
. Support of Israeli Soldiers and Discrimination against Palestinian Students
Being an important part of a militarized war-like society in which army service is a fundamental mainstream consensus, Israeli universities and academic institutes tend to provide preferential treatment to current soldiers, ex-soldiers and reserve-soldier students.
Israeli law itself stipulates that universities give special treatment to reservist students28 and none of the universities themselves have ever expressed even symbolic opposition to this political interference in the academic sphere; on the contrary, almost all of them have come up with their own original ways of supporting soldiers and the Israeli war-like agenda (way beyond what they are required to by law). The most common method for this is the granting of scholarships and academic benefits based, sometimes solely, on past, present or future military service. Many scholarships, including some university sponsored ones, grant credit to applicants who have served in the army,29 and it is also easy to find scholarships granted solely to soldiers.30 Haifa University, for example, sponsored a soldier-only scholarship in memory of fallen soldiers.
31 Other forms of academic aid granted to soldier-students include free additional classes, extra test dates, and consideration for absence from lectures. This consideration is more generous than that given to students requiring such measures for health reasons, for example. Recently, Israeli academic institutions have even begun to recognize army-training courses as academic credit.32 Nearly all academic institutes in Israel, including almost all universities, give certain (though sometimes minor) academic benefits to soldiers in general, and combat soldiers and elite unit veterans in particular, 33 support that tends to increase during periods of intense fighting, for example the second Lebanon War or the 2008-09 attack on Gaza.
The period of operation “Cast Lead”—Israel’s attack on Gaza that had resulted in the killing of more than a thousand Palestinians—witnessed a distinct increase in the academic support provided to soldiers.
Ben Gurion University outdid all other universities by giving a special grant of NIS 180 (approximately EURO 35) for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty, in addition to other benefits.34 The Hebrew University, 35 Technion,36 Haifa University37 and Bar Ilan University38 also gave reservist students who participated in the fighting academic benefits in addition to the usual benefits for reservists.
Among the non-university academic institutes, the most notable is probably the Peres Academic Center, which provided scholarships of NIS 10,000 (approximately EUR 2,000) to veterans of the operation.39
The “Cast Lead” period is not the first time for such extra support. The Hebrew University, for example, announced a special scholarship of NIS 1,500 (EURO 300), in addition to other academic benefits, to students who went on reserve duty in combat units for more than three weeks during operation “Defensive Shield” in 2002,40 thus actively encouraging students to participate in the fighting that resulted in, amongst other things, the complete devastation of the Jenin Refugee Camp and other suspected war crimes.41 The Haddasah College in Jerusalem provided similar benefits.42
The Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), probably the most prestigious of all Israeli non-university academic institutes, has made support of the Israeli military an integral part of its overt agenda. The IDC reserves ten percent of its student places to veterans of elite combat units in the Israeli army, who further benefit from lower acceptance entry criteria.
43 Moreover, it gives scholarships to veterans of combat units hailing from Jewish Ethiopian origins.44 The IDC also takes pride in having given extra support to soldier-students during the Gaza attacks.45 The method of giving a large scholarship solely on the grounds of former membership in the Israeli army has become popular in many smaller, less renowned colleges, especially in high tech fields such as engineering. Tel Hai College and the Qiryia for Engineering and Technology, for example, both offer a 90% scholarship to former soldiers.46
The Israeli army runs programs of “academic reserve” in which it funds the studies of future soldiers in return for longer service. Simply receiving student fees from the army instead of the students themselves does not, of course, mean that these universities support the army, but several of these programs are conducted, sponsored and facilitated by the academic institutes themselves. The “Atidim” academic reserve program, for example, is sponsored by the Herzliya IDC, Judea and Samaria College, Afeka College, Academic College for Engineering in Jerusalem, and Jordan Valley College (as well as weapon manufacturing companies such as Elbit).47 Several of the universities also sponsor “Atidim.”
The Technion, for example, takes an active part in the program48 and has even granted an honorary degree to Atidim’s military commander.49 The participants of the joint military-Hebrew University “Talpiot” program, intended for science students who will later be integrated into the army’s research & development units, wear uniforms throughout their years of study and live in a special army base located on the university’s campus.50
Likewise, the “Havatzalot” program for future military intelligence officers also has a military base on the campus of the Haifa University.51 The “Brakim” academic reserve program is being co-conducted by the Technion and the Israeli army52 which, together with Tel-Aviv University, also allow the army use of their excellent student programs to run the “Psagot” program.53 These latter programs are considered very prestigious. They sometimes include courses not open to other students and their participants are shown academic lenience and flexibility unlike that provided to other students. Hebrew University, for example, organizes special courses, classes and test dates exclusively for “Talpiot” student-soldiers. In 2008, the Hebrew University won a tender to establish and run a school for military medicine, designed specifically to train medical staff for the Israeli armed forces.54 This school means the creation of a special department for future soldiers. It is unknown which other universities participated in the tender besides Ben Gurion University, which claimed it had originated the very idea for this school and thus challenged the awarding of the tender to Hebrew University.55 Israeli military doctors have long been accused of collaborating with torture and human rights abuses in detention centers and military facilities.56
These examples alone are clear evidence of the unconditional support given by Israeli universities and colleges to the Israeli army and government policy, but examining them solely from this perspective hides part of the picture. This type of support, whether through scholarships and money transfers, or academic benefits and lenience, is also discriminatory against those who do not conscript to the Israeli army. Conscription to the Israeli army is mandatory, but there are numerous Israeli youth exempt from service because of religious beliefs and health reasons. There are also a small but important number of conscientious objectors who are sometimes imprisoned because of their refusal to enlist. Any favorable or preferential treatment to soldiers is discrimination against both these groups, but the starkest discrimination is against Palestinian citizens of Israel who, unlike most other ethnic populations, are not conscripted to the Israeli army. In the past this fact has been used in numerous cases to discriminate against Palestinian citizens, especially in matters of employment.57 Since any preferential treatment of soldiers and ex-soldiers must necessarily be seen as practical discrimination against Palestinians, the Israeli system of higher education is rife with such mistreatment. The small Carmel College caused an uproar when a recorded conversation between officials in the college confirmed that an entire department was closed because “too many” Palestinian students had enlisted for studies there.58 This, however, is an exception. Discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel is usually done in a much more subtle manner, employing bureaucratic criteria for receiving academic services based on previous army service. An example of this is that the “Atidim” program of academic reserve, mentioned above, also operates a program of funding studies for students from a marginalized and weakened socio-economic background. While this program has no connection to military service, it includes only towns and settlements whose population are drafted into the army (or, in other words, all ethnic populations who are not Palestinian).
59 All of the organizations mentioned above which sponsor “Atidim” should therefore also be seen as encouraging racial discrimination. Such discriminatory bureaucratic measures were also used by Haifa University to exclude Palestinian citizens of Israel from the subsidized student dormitories on its campus.60 The Israeli High Court itself ruled against the university and declared that such treatment constitutes discrimination and should be abolished, but as is evident by the examples mentioned here, preferential treatment towards soldiers, ex-soldiers and future soldiers is deeply rooted in almost all main Israeli academic institutions and should therefore be considered as discriminatory against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
While Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute more than 20% of the country’s population, only 9.5% of B.A. students, 4.8% of M.A. students, 3.2% of Ph.D. students and a mere 1% of the academic staff in Israeli academic institutions are Palestinians.61
Palestinian applicants are three times as likely to be rejected by Israeli academic institutions than Jewish applicants. 62 This situation must also be a consequence of discrimination and neglect of the education of Palestinian citizens of Israel on all levels, but Israeli universities and colleges do not appear concerned about this situation.
Although Arabic is an official language of Israel and the first language of more than a fifth of Israel’s population, none of the main Israeli academic institutions have programs of study conducted in Arabic.
Discrimination is sometimes used by academic institutions against Palestinians who are not registered students in those institutions. The Hebrew University, for instance, demands a police-issued “character reference” certificate from non-student Palestinian visitors to its campus, supposedly to ensure they are not terrorists. This demand is not required of Jewish visitors.63
. Participation in Israeli Military Training
Support of the Israeli military and policies by academic institutions’ can also involve more direct intervention in support of armed forces and determination of Israeli government policy.
One of the major developments of the Israeli occupation in recent years is the gradual privatization and transference of many security roles, both within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to private companies. With a security guard on the doorstep of most big shops and restaurants in Israel and private security companies operating some of the larger checkpoints in the West Bank, the need for security guards rarely drops. Being a security guard, however, is not considered a very prestigious job, and most guards tend to come from the lower rungs of Israeli society.
Likewise, the bigger, more established academic institutions have little to do with these kinds of jobs while some of the smaller colleges, in an attempt to attract more students, offer courses and entire programs that train students to become security officers, with a clear direction towards private security companies and the Israeli security forces. Some of these colleges, such as the Israeli College for Security and Investigation, have an official program that prepares its graduates for integration into the security services.64
Other institutes, such as the College for Management, have a program of Security Studies and explicitly state that the participants’ future employment in the Israeli operative security services is distinctly optional.65
The more prestigious institutes’ involvement in training is usually reserved for deeper, more direct connections with Israeli security agencies. The Israeli army’s Command and Staff College (PUM) is its main institute for training officers and command staff. Since 1969 the training in PUM has also had an academic side, first under the charge of Tel-Aviv University and later under the Hebrew University.66 In addition to PUM, the Israeli army has other military colleges that, as of 2005, are also under the academic auspices of Hebrew University and are supposed to be built inside the Hebrew University’s campus.67 Military training is also a big part of the Wingate Institute, which is Israel’s primary academic institute in the fields of fitness and sports. A whole military training base is located at the Wingate Institute, 68 and it often acts as a part of the army’s training facilities.69 The Zefat College, a branch of Bar Ilan University, has an exclusive academic program for training members of the Israeli General Security Service (GSS),70 an organization notorious for using torture and abusing human rights throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.71 Participants of this program receive their B.A. after only 16 months (as opposed to the usual three years required in a regular B.A.).72 This program was intended to be moved to the more prestigious Hebrew University, but this plan was eventually revoked (interestingly, the program’s cancellation happened after activists threatened to report these developments to what was then a formulating academic boycott campaign in the UK).73 Bar Ilan University also has other types of programs intended for high-ranking army officers.74
Some of the most prestigious programs within the army itself include substantial academic parts. As part of their training, military pilots receive a B.A. from Ben Gurion University in the course of a single year (instead of the normal three years).75 The trainees of the navy’s ship captains’ course, also one of the most prestigious in the army, receive a B.A. from Haifa University.76
. Direct Involvement with the Israeli Occupation
The three previous chapters have depicted unquestioning support by virtually all Israeli universities and other academic institutions of the occupation, mainly through support of the Israeli security forces, their policies and actions. Several universities have taken a step further and have become directly involved with the Israeli occupation. The starkest example of this is the Judea and Samaria College, founded by Bar Ilan University in Ariel, an Israeli settlement on Palestinian territory.
77 While attempts have been made to turn this college into a fullfledged university in its own right, the responsibility of Bar Ilan University should not be underestimated. This is an obvious attempt by the Israeli authorities to cement the status of the Ariel settlement as a part of Israel, with the full cooperation and acceptance of the university. In a short welcoming movie, former Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon states that the Ariel College has an important “strategic” value and that it fortifies “Israel’s future borders,”78 which makes it undeniable that the College is a part of an Israeli attempt to eternalize the Ariel settlement. Another academic institute located in a settlement is the Herzog College, located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.79 Jerusalem’s Hebrew University has also become an accomplice in building in settlements on Palestinian lands. Its Mount Scopus campus is situated inside the Green Line, but bordering on Palestinian land in virtually all directions.
Since the 1970s, the university has attempted to oust nine Palestinian families who live in nearby lands in order to expand its campus. Hebrew University has already built on lands belonging to the Palestinian villages of Lifta, al-Issawiya, and Wadi al-Joz. In 2004 the university began expansion onto another area that belongs to Palestinians, in order to build parking lots, offices and student housing.80 A big part of the Hebrew University’s student housing is located on French Hill, a settlement neighborhood of Jerusalem. This student housing area also serves the Bezalel Art Academy. Tel-Aviv University is situated on the land of the destroyed Palestinian village Skeikh Muwanis. According to Zochrot, some parts of the university’s land were confiscated by Israel and not purchased from the Palestinian owners of the area.81 The Tel-Aviv University has never even recognized the facts relating to the territory it uses and has never acknowledged the history of its campus.
Being centers of knowledge and influential people, Israeli universities are sometimes involved not only in a land grab for themselves, but also in determining official policies of Israel’s occupation. The instances in which academic research merges with governmental or security policy are difficult to detect, but the case of Haifa University’s Department of Geo-strategy is a clear example. One of the most prominent members of the department is Arnon Sofer, who also acts as its head and the head of the Israeli army’s College for National Security.82
In a paper marking five years of work by the Geo-strategy Department, Sofer boasts of the department’s influence on policies taken by Israel in subjects such as the Separation Wall and the Palestinian Right of Return.83 The department, an official part of Haifa University, thus takes a clear political stance. Sofer mentions that the topic heading the department agenda is the “Demographic Problem” (Haifa University also conducted a conference on this subject),84 a way of defining the rate of reproduction amongst Palestinians, which is higher than that of Israeli Jews, as a “problem.”
. High-Ranking Military Officers in Israeli Universities
The Israeli mainstream has never accepted the debate of the legality of Israeli actions during Israel’s various wars and towards the subjugated Palestinian population. The legitimacy of the Israeli security forces is taken for granted in every situation, regardless of actions they take or the amount of destruction and harm they cause Palestinians.
Any attempt to raise this subject in a way that does not assume the Israeli security forces’ moral high ground is automatically marginalized by the mainstream media and politicians and labeled “radical” and “un-patriotic.”
Israeli universities have adopted this consensus by accepting into their ranks former members of the Israeli security services, without regard for the problematic aspects of their possible actions in past positions. Ex-Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch’s part
in approving and overseeing the legal justification of Israel’s bombing and devastation of the Gaza Strip in December 2008—January 2009 did not prevent Tel-Aviv University from appointing her to the post of lecturer.85
The university’s response to an outcry by activists and lecturers against this appointment was that “the university does not judge lecturers’ political points of view and encourages a myriad collection of political opinions.”86
Sharvit-Baruch, however, does not only “hold a certain political opinion,” but in her time as Colonel, Sharvit-Baruch specifically authorized the killing of Palestinian civilians, making her a possible accomplice in war crimes. This is independent of her political views.
Similarly, Carmi Gilon’s past as Director of the General Security Services, an organization especially notorious for torture and human rights abuses of Palestinians, and who is accused by various organizations of committing war crimes,87 did not cause Hebrew University to reconsider appointing him to the post of Vice-President for External Affairs.88 These appointments of former high-ranking officers in the Israeli security services would seem very natural in the Israeli mainstream context, where they enjoy a great deal of prestige, but the Israeli mainstream is itself very radical and should by no means be taken as a standard.
. Stifling of Political Dissent in Israeli Universities
Israeli universities and academic institutions are supposed to allow freedom of expression on their campuses, as well as the formation of political organizations and student groups. To a certain degree that is indeed the situation and it cannot be said that students are completely incapable of expressing their views on Israeli campuses. There are, however, several notable exceptions that offer a glimpse into the underlying policy of several universities, policies severe in their own right.
In 2009 a graduation ceremony for M.A. students at the Technion University concluded, like many official ceremonies in Israel, with the singing of Hatikva, the national anthem. M.A. graduate and activist Eyal Rosenberg, unlike the rest of the students, remained sitting during the singing of the anthem. He subsequently received an official letter from the Dean of the university, denouncing him and warning him not to attend the next ceremony.
89 This example of nationalist feelings superseding academic notions is not the only one. In 2008 Israeli President Shimon Peres visited the Hebrew University campus of Mount Scopus. During Peres’ tour of the library he approached several students and asked them questions. Ali Baher, a Palestinian citizen and Head of the Hebrew University’s Arab Student Body, refused to shake Peres’ and called him “murderer of children.” University security immediately apprehended and detained him for more than three hours.90 Baher’s student card was confiscated and he was subsequently sent to a disciplinary committee. Ben Gurion University also took action against political activists: its security guards started photographing and monitoring left-wing political activists and, especially during Israel’s military attack on Gaza, put in place unreasonable and illegal obstacles, even preventing students from mounting legal political demonstrations and activities.91
The most notorious case, however, happened in 2008 in the Sapir College in Sderot. Nizar Hassan, a movie maker and lecturer on cinema at the college, asked a student, not to come to his class in the future wearing an army uniform, after the student, returning from military reserve duty, entered Hassan’s class wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. This case was followed by a huge media uproar, which included false reports by Israel’s mainstream media that Hassan threw the student out of the class and made anti-Semitic remarks (a report that was completely disproved by the students in Hassan’s class). The college came under intense pressure from top ranking army officers to rebuke Hassan, who did not receive the college’s backing.
The question of whether a lecturer can decide what a student can or cannot wear in class is a legitimate one and some would argue that it indeed was not Hassan’s right to ask the student not to come to class while in uniform. This, however, is not a case regarding the question of attire, else the same would have happened in the case of another lecturer at Sapir College who had asked a female Bedouin student not to come to class wearing a veil. Later in 2008 Sapir College opened proceedings to dismiss Hassan from his position at the college because of the incident.92
Regardless of whether this measure was taken independently by the college or whether it was a surrender to the pressure of state and army officials, it shows a special regard by the college of the Israeli army.
. History of the Academic Boycott of Israel to Date
The notion of an academic boycott of Israel is considered to have been first publicly introduced in an open letter to the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom in 2002.93 It was drafted in light of Israel’s disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians during the Second Intifada, and the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians by Israeli troops. The letter, formulated by Steven and Hilary Rose and signed by many other distinguished academics and scholars, calls for a “moratorium [...] upon any further [privileged] support [of grants and contracts to Israeli research institutes] unless and until Israel abides by UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines proposed in many peace plans, including most recently that sponsored by the Saudis and the Arab League.” It is likely that some forms of boycott, decided on a more personal level, had been in place before this letter, but only after the Rose couple’s letter did debate seriously and openly begin about the notion of an academic boycott.
Unsurprisingly, the letter also sparked a furious opposition, mainly, but not exclusively from pro-Israeli academics and organizations.
It is important to note that the Rose letter’s argumentation revolves around academic boycott being a possible effective measure towards ending the occupation and not about the Israeli academia’s involvement with the occupation. Through sanctions, the Rose couple claimed, Israel could be better pressured to end the occupation.
Further, outright boycott actions took place in the following few years, but these were ore or less restricted to decisions made by individuals and did not garner international interest.
II I. The Question of Academic Boycott on Israel
It was not until 2005 that a more organized and public boycott was successfully declared. The British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott Bar Ilan University because of its academic responsibility for Judea and Samaria College (which is, as mentioned above, located in a settlement) and Haifa University, because of its alleged controversial treatment of Israeli lecturer Ilan Pappe. This boycott’s reasoning differed from the Rose letter-suggested boycott, in that it was targeting certain academic institutions because of specific actions rather than the whole of Israeli academia. It was unsurprising that this very first successful act of organized boycott triggered wide opposition both in Israel and outside.
Tremendous pressure was exercised on the AUT. Only a little more than one month after approval, the boycott was retracted.
A year later, in 2006, the second main British academic union at the time, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), approved what was considered a boycotting measure of their own—a motion recommending all members to reconsider any connection they had with Israeli academics and academic institutions who do not openly object the occupation.
It is important to analyze the NATFHE boycott attempt because it had several important differences from the earlier AUT attempt.
Firstly, the NATFHE boycott targeted not only academic institutions but also academics as well. This, coupled with the fact that the criterion for boycott was whether the academic in question had openly rejected the occupation or not, meant that the argument that this boycott had stepped into the realm of political discrimination had at least some measure of truth; political opinions rather than actions were judged by the boycott motion. This motion essentially demanded that all Israeli academics and academic institutions take a political position. A number of uncertainties come with such a demand as it is unclear, for example, what exactly are the criteria for objecting to the occupation.
Is a professor who personally opposes the occupation but has not published an article in support of his political position objecting or not? What if an academic institution declares opposition to the occupation, but continues supporting the Israeli military?
Secondly, the NATFHE boycott motion was ultimately only a suggestion and not an active action. All members of NATFHE were merely advised to reconsider all connections with Israeli academics and institutions who did not oppose the occupation, but no collective action was decided upon. This was little more than a symbolic statement, as academics who had decided on a personal academic boycott were free to do so even before the NATFHE motion. Though symbolic steps should not be underestimated, the mere encouragement of academics to consider a boycott on a personal, non-declarative level can hardly be understood as a serious step of boycott.
The two unions—NATFHE and AUT—merged a short while after the boycott motion was passed into a new union called the University and College Union (UCU), resulting in the boycott’s cancellation. Since then various attempts were made to pass boycotting motions within the UCU, which mainly included declarative support of the idea of boycott but no real action. In September 2007 the UCU declared that boycotting motions will not be suggested further because of the threat of legal action.
Ironically, one of the biggest incentives for the campaign of academic boycott on Israel was Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza. The beginning of 2009 (following the attack, which ended on 21 January) witnessed a surge in initiatives of boycott and divestment against Israel in general, and the academic boycott in particular. Since January 2009, academic boycott initiatives have begun in Sweden, Canada, Spain, USA and Australia.94 Some of these, like the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ resolution on boycotting Israeli academic institutes that have connections to the Israeli army, have already received widespread coverage and have been sustained even more than the failed 2005 AUT resolution.
An important step was the above-mentioned report on Tel-Aviv University’s connection to weapon’s development, written by the SOAS student Palestinian Society, which demonstrates that the proponents of the academic boycott may have become more particular and specific in their arguments.
In September 2009 the Spanish government canceled the participation of Ariel’s Judea and Samaria College in a contest on solar energy technology development. This act was the success of a short but effective campaign by Spanish and Catalan academics and BDS organizations, and this case is most probably the first ever success of an academic boycott and divestment campaign.95 Though the path from canceling Ariel College’s participation in a contest to an overall boycott of Israeli academic institutions is long, this act is an important precedent that represents the fact that Israeli attempts to present Ariel College as having nothing to do with politics has failed. The fact that the campaign for the exclusion of Ariel College was mounted by a relatively small group and took little time to reach its goal could indicate that more targeted and fact-based academic boycott campaigns may be more effective than large, wide scale campaigns.
. Comparison With the Academic Boycott of South Africa’s Apartheid Regime
The boycott campaign to end the South African apartheid regime, supported by numerous popular organizations (though not without its own opposition, controversies and debate), is often seen as a model for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli occupation. An important part of the South African boycott was an academic boycott that was more harsh than what is currently advocated by the BDS campaign against Israel: the academic boycott on South Africa included not only not investing in and not sharing university research with South African academic institutes, but also not recognizing academic degrees given by South African universities, thus practically ignoring the universities altogether. Despite this, a study conducted a short time after the end of the boycott in 1990 showed that most of the academics and academic institutions in apartheid South Africa felt the boycott as little more than an annoyance and not as a real obstacle.96 The academic boycott, like much of the other aspects of the boycott against South Africa, is said to have exerted very little real pressure on the apartheid regime. Some argue, based on this example, that an academic boycott’s effect is too minor and that the potential harm done by such a boycott outweighs the benefits, which are anyways too small. Putting ideological aspects regarding the value of a mere act of resistance aside, comparisons between the academic boycott of South Africa and formulating one against Israel should be made with caution.
South Africa’s economy is today centered around the country’s rich natural resources, and was even more so during the time of apartheid, when technology related economic fields were marginal, at least until the 1990’s.
However, twenty-six percent of Israeli exports in 2008 were comprised of high-tech goods,97 which are the products of an industry highly dependent on academic training and connections.
Even if a boycott of Israeli academic institutions did not grind Israeli research to a halt, it might have a profound effect on the Israeli economy, adding pressure to end the occupation.
The same research done on the South African boycott concluded that academics in the fields of the natural sciences (which are the areas more related to high-tech) found the effects of the boycott more severe than other academics.98
That natural scientists may be more affected by boycotts is related to the fact that they require more resources than academics in fields of humanities.
For instance, as mentioned before, Israeli universities do not fully cover the expenses of scientists and many of the researchers use external investments, percentages of which are taken by the universities themselves.
This process of money being invested from external sources, such as foreign universities and private companies, has increased with the age of globalization and neo-liberalism. These sorts of investments were not in place during the boycott of South Africa. An academic boycott, in addition to influencing the technology and knowledge dependent economic sectors, may therefore also directly hurt the funding of universities as a whole, at a time in which they their finances are already precarious.
From an economic perspective, Israel is therefore at present far more vulnerable to an academic boycott than apartheid South Africa ever was.
Lastly it is important to note the psychological effects of a boycott. Even an academic boycott, which did not have any obvious economic effects on Israel or its academic institutions, is still likely to have an impact on one of the main purposes of the Israeli academic institutes: the political capital gained from the prestige of being part of the global intellectual sphere.
The prestige of Israel’s universities is one of the main elements that allow Israelis to consider themselves a part of the western world. Israelis are very much dependent on these connections, not only economically but culturally as well. White South Africans are descendants of British and Dutch colonialists and therefore even when boycotted could still easily consider themselves connected to Europe. Israelis, however, cannot take for granted being a part of western world and its culture.
An academic boycott of Israel represents a threat that could damage one of the most important cultural connections between Israel and the western world.
. Discussion of Academic Boycotts against Israel
In order to understand the arguments for and against academic boycotts of Israel one first has to formulate the boycott in question and ask what are its targets. Actions of boycott and sanctions aimed at changing a certain situation or governmental action can be divided into two types.
The first consists of acts directed at organizations and companies that are accomplices or supporters of the situation the boycott sets out to change.
Actions of divestment from companies that own factories in the Occupied Territories are an example of this type of sanctions. This sort of boycott is ideological in principle, in that it identifies the organization in question as a political entity that willingly intervenes in the situation and as such, a part of the problem. Such a boycott, against an organization, would be a refusal to support the organization because any such support is, indirectly, also support of the situation in question. This type of boycott will be referred to as “ideological” henceforth.
The second type of boycott would be a complete boycott of all organizations connected to a certain group in order to exercise pressure on the group or the group’s leadership, regardless of the boycotted organizations’ part in the situation in question. Boycotting all Israeli agricultural produce, even produce by companies that have nothing to do with the occupation, in order to put pressure on the Israeli government to cease the occupation is an example of this type of boycott.
This type of boycott’s argumentation and reasoning is tactical rather than ideological in its basis as though it would be recognized that some of the organizations targeted are “innocent” of political involvement, hurting them would be seen as the price to pay inorder to achieve a certain goal. The considerations of such a boycott are, ultimately, arguments of effectiveness.
For such a boycott to gain support it must be proved that the harm done is outweighed by the good that will be achieved. An academic boycott of this type will be referred to here as “tactical.”
Many attack the idea of academic boycott of Israel by attempting to justify Israel’s actions. This report, however, deals with the notion of academic boycott and is not the place to discuss arguments regarding the occupation itself. Therefore, arguments against the academic boycott that attack the boycott’s very goal of ending the occupation99 will not be related to here. The ideas in question here are only those arguing for or against an academic boycott being a legitimate means of objection and resistance to the Israeli occupation. One of the most common arguments against an academic boycott on Israel is the notion of “Academic Freedom,” which asserts that academics and academic institutions should be given almost total freedom of expression, thought and academic research. Another frequently used argument that lies in close proximity to the Academic Freedom one is demanding a separation between academics and politics and claiming that Israeli academic institutes should not be the target of a boycott because of the political situation and the actions taken by Israeli politicians.
An ideological boycott motion’s answer to these arguments would be that, indeed, a separation between academics and politics is in place, but that demanding such a separation is in fact an argument very much in support of an academic boycott. As proved here, the political and the academic institutions are not at all separated within the borders of nearly all Israeli academic institutes. What’s more, the disappearance of borders between these two spheres is done not only with the consent and cooperation of the main academic institutes, but with their active encouragement and initiative.
Most Israeli academic institutions cannot be treated as “neutral” or apolitical organizations, and as such cannot hide behind Academic Freedom as they are not merely academic and nonpolitical themselves.
A tactical boycott motion’s answer to these arguments would first be to remind that the original purpose of Academic Freedom was to protect academics and academic institutions from attacks by the likes of non-democratic or totalitarian measures, usually within the state itself—actions very much like the treatment of Palestinian universities in the OPT (which are, therefore, under the responsibility of Israel). Palestinian universities have been closed down, blockaded, assaulted and even bombed from aircraft by Israeli forces all throughout the years since 1967. This, by all means, constitutes a blunt violation of the Palestinian Academic Freedom and a tactical boycott would deem it worthwhile to harm Israeli Academic Freedom right now in order to achieve overall Academic Freedom for both Israeli and Palestinian institutions in the future.
Another important argument against academic boycotts of Israel is that some of the most notable critics of occupation within Israel itself are academics. It has been rightfully said by objectors to the notion of academic boycott that inside the Israeli academic sphere it is certainly much easier to find objectors to the occupation than outside. The Israeli universities, despite all their flaws, continue to be centers of intellectual activity and are generally far more progressive than the mainstream.
This fact, however, has yet to change the policy taken by the universities where these academics work and research. In fact, while in the past the academics have had more influence on the management of their own university (which did not stop the universities from supporting the occupation), the ability of academics to determine the policy of the institutes where they work has been eroded in recent years.
The recent election of a new president at Hebrew University, for example, was done not by the academic staff of that university but by an external committee which consisted of academics and “public representatives,” amongst whom are a bank director and hotelowning businessman. The committee eventually chose a former Hebrew University professor, but the other main candidate for the post was former chief of the Israeli Air Force, Eliezer Shakedi, who had never even studied at a university.100 Shakedi’s name was mainly pushed by the non-academic members of the committee and the election of a new president took longer than anticipated because of a deadlock between the two candidates. Though the academics’ candidate eventually won, this example serves to demonstrate that the power of academics to influence the policy of academic institutions may be limited. Even if all academics in a certain academic institute would unite in demanding that the institute stops support of the occupation (an event which in itself has never happened and is unlikely to happen), there is no certainty that they would succeed, as the control of the institutes has been, to a very large degree, taken out of their hands.
Even the few instances where universities have acted in opposition to the occupation, such as the successful and admirable struggle to allow a few Palestinian Ph.D. students from the West Bank attendance at Hebrew University in spite of the army’s opposition, 101 or the supportive treatment of Bedouin women students in Ben Gurion University, cannot hide the unconditional support that the these universities give the occupation in general. While these cases show that voices rejecting the occupation do exist within the Israeli academia, they can hardly cover for the overall policy taken by the institutions themselves.
Another common argumentagainst academic boycotts of Israel is that such measures are, in fact, a cover for anti-Semitism. It is worth noting that this argument identifies the Israeli state with the Jewish people, an act which is also necessary for any theoretical anti-Semite who supports the boycott and goes very much in contrary to the agenda of many of the actual proponents of the boycott.
A Tactical academic boycott, targeting all Israeli academic institutions without distinction, may theoretically, though not necessarily, be a cover for anti-Semitism. However, is difficult to understand exactly how a careful and fact-based argumentation of an Ideological academic boycott of Israel would be a cover for anti-Semitism, as it leaves the clear option of cessation of the boycott to any institute which ceases its support of the occupation.
At its beginning, many of the efforts of the academic boycott movement against Israel focused on the horrors of the occupation itself and the boycott as an effective way of stopping it (such as the Rose letter of 2002). This can be viewed as the tactical form of boycott, and much of the opposition to the academic boycott has tried to prove how ineffective such a boycott would be. Arguing that the Israeli academic sphere is more left-leaning than the rest of the Israeli society is such an argument of effectiveness. As the campaign for academic boycott evolved and expanded, however, the argumentation for it began leaning towards the first type—the “ideological.”
In some instances the feeling was that an operation like the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories must involve all layers of society and thus include the Israeli academia. This, as has been shown here, is quite true, and an academic boycott against Israel may take the form of ideologicallybased sanctions against organizations who are involved with the occupation.
It should be remembered, however, that though all main Israeli academic institutions, and many other minor ones, were found to be accomplices to the occupation, not all academic institutions were found to have such clear-cut positions. The Open University, for example, is an institute that was not found here to grant any obvious and unquestionable support to the occupation. Based solely on facts presented in this document (which are almost surely incomplete), an “ideological” academic boycott would not target the Open University, for one. It should be remembered, however, that the Open University and the other academic institutions not mentioned here in connection with cooperation with the occupation are very minor institutions. As such, they have little connection, if any, with foreign academic institutions and boycotting them would be little more than a very symbolic act. An “ideological” academic boycott and a “tactical” boycott would target, effectively, the same major targets. It is also not clear what a boycott of these minor institutions would add to the struggle against the occupation and whether it would justify possibly hurting truly non-politicized institutions.
An “academic boycott” is a concept open to interpretation and can have several different meanings. Some of the measures that can be taken by an academic boycott, such as not inviting university representatives to conventions, may be more symbolic and prestige damaging than economically effective (though they should not be underestimated). Other measures, such as ceasing investment in Israeli university research, may drastically affect the Israeli academia and economy.
Whether it is a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions or only the academic institutions that take part in the Israeli occupation, an academic boycott may be a legitimate action to achieve an end to the occupation (this is not to say that it must necessarily be used). An action of boycott should be taken very seriously and cautiously with a consideration of all surrounding details, its goal and the affected targets. Though ultimately non-violent, it is nonetheless a grave action that can cause great harm and antagonism and should therefore be approached cautiously and methodically.
Whatever the arguments for or against an academic boycott of Israel, and whichever type and form of boycott is pushed forward or rejected, the actions of the Israeli academic institutes and their connections to the political situation in Israel-Palestine must be taken into consideration.
I V. Israeli Academic Institutions in Support of the Occupation Divided by Institution