Dear Officials of Leiden University,
We are a group of Israeli citizens. It has recently been brought to our attention that Leiden University had decided to host a special lecture at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University on Thursday 25/11, commemorating a speech by Professor Rudolph Pabus Cleveringa during the Second World War, in which he protested the removal of Jewish faculty members.
The statement issued by Leiden University reads as follows:
"Cleveringa raised his voice right at the onset of the war, notably in regard of the freedom of expression. This is highly appreciated in Israel, all the more as there are still universities abroad trying to boycott Israeli professors and students."
We would like to pay our highest respect to Prof. Cleveringa, for his bold action, taken in the defense of universal principles of human rights. However, as Israeli citizens who care for these principles’ the choice to hold the Cleveringa lecture at the Hebrew University seems completely erroneous to us.
The Hebrew University is not a politically neutral institution. In addition to the incidents mentioned above, the Hebrew University is a constant and willing collaborator with the Israeli Defense Force - a military force over which hover well founded allegations of war crimes, including the bombing and destruction of Palestinian Universities and severe disruption of their academic life, or the bombing of media centers and radio stations. The Hebrew University has been involved in the development of weaponry for use by the Israeli military and in the training of the top military weapons’ researchers. The university even hosts a military base within its Givat Ram campus. All of this does not bode well with the principles of human rights.
It is true that there is, indeed, a measure of freedom of expression among the academic faculty members of the Israeli universities that cannot usually be found in totalitarian regimes. Compared with the democratic world, however, the picture is quite different: it is certainly not the case of Ali Baher, who was a student in the Hebrew University in 2008, when he was approached by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was visiting the campus. Baher refused to shake Peres’ hand and said “I would not shake the hand of child-killer such as yourself” referring to the latter’s involvement in the 1996 bombing by the Israeli military of civilians in southern Lebanon that resulted in the deaths of 106 human men, women and children (Peres was the Prime Minister at the time of the bombing). Baher was immediately detained by university security, his student ID was confiscated and he was sent to a disciplinary committee by the university itself.
It should also be stressed that the inhabitants of the Palestinian village of Issawiyeh, immediately adjacent to the university's Mount Scopus campus, have experienced years of violent Israeli repression, and university officials have been silent on this matter. Furthermore, university officials have been silent in the face of numerous incidents in which basic human rights, as well as the academic rights, of Palestinian students and teachers were severely violated by Israel.
(sample report: http://mondoweiss.net/2010/11/a-kid-throws-a-stone-in-east-jerusalem-and-a-village-is-locked-down.html)
An intriguing detail in the Cleveringa lecture statement is the reference to “universities abroad trying to boycott Israeli professors and students”. It would be interesting to know which universities the author of this reference had in mind. It should be stressed that the Palestinian civil society's call for an academic boycott (http://www.pacbi.org), the call on which the global BDS campaign is based, states explicitly that the boycott is aimed at institutions rather than individuals, and that Israeli academics and students are not to be targeted by the boycott.
In view of the facts presented here, we would like to share with you our conclusion that the Hebrew University is institutionally complicit in Israel’s illegal policies of occupation and racism. Therefore, we would like to ask you to respect the memory of Prof. Cleveringa and move the 2011 Cleveringa lecture to a different venue!
We would be interested in your response.
Ofra Ben Artzi
Prof. Rachel Giora
On behalf of
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from within