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Ben-Gurion University
Chapter 7 in "Women and Jihad" detailing Rachel Avraham's Experience of anti-Israel Bias at Ben-Gurion University
8.12.16
Editorial Note

IAM has the permission to publish chapter seven in Rachel Avraham's new book Women and Jihad.  While pursuing an MA degree at Ben Gurion University and writing a thesis on woman suicide bombers, Rachel felt strong anti-Israel biases which she opposed, only to be harshly criticized and intimidated by BGU staff. She turned to IAM for support. This is her story: 


CHAPTER SEVEN: Standing up to terror appeasement


When covering terror attacks, word usage and the semantics of language do matter.   The way that one uses language in order to influence audiences to reach a certain interpretation is the art of journalism and also teaching.   How one describes a given terror attack can dramatically affect the meanings and interpretations of a news article, news clip, or lecture.   For example, when one uses the term militant to describe Palestinian female suicide bombers instead of terrorist, it implies that their actions are less deplorable.   It is a statement that justifies such terror attacks.    

This is why in my work as a news editor and political analyst for JerusalemOnline, I always use the term terrorist to describe terrorists and never the term militant.   It is a matter of principle for me.   In my definition, the Jewish freedom fighters who partook in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were militants but anybody who wantonly and indiscriminately targets civilians like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade did during the Second Intifada and still do is a terrorist.   To call terrorists militants amounts to terror appeasement!    

For me, this issue is very personal.   Like most Israeli families, my family also has been compelled to deal with the consequences of Palestinian terror attacks.  My husband lost two cousins, Hanit Arami and Claude Knapp, in two different Palestinian terror attacks in 2001 during the heights of the Second Intifada.   On March 1, 2001, Claude Knapp was murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber while taking a shared taxi from Tel Aviv that exploded around the Mei Ami Junction.   He was 29-years-old.  Claude’s dog survived this terror attack unlike his owner yet was traumatized for the rest of his life, refusing to bark like other dogs do. It demonstrates that animals, just like people, can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.  

On July 16, 2001, Hanit Arami, a corporal in the intelligence corps, was murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber while on the way home to see her family.  She was 19-years-old, not on duty at the time she was murdered, was an excellent student and was loved by everyone.   Hanit was murdered merely because the terrorist failed to enter the Binyamina Train Station and therefore decided to target her instead as she was standing peacefully by the bus stop outside while trying to get home for Shabbat.    

To this day, Carmela, the mother of Hanit Arami, suffers a lot due to the brutal loss of her daughter.   Since Hanit’s murder, Carmela has suffered from epileptic seizures and has been unable to work.  Previously known as a cheerful person, she has become significantly more serious and sad.   Her husband Shlomo was also forced to work less due to an injury, resulting in a drastic reduction in the family’s income.   

As can be expected, life was never the same after that point for Claude’s mother Daniele as well.  Since that time, Daniele Knapp, Claude’s mother, who presently lives in Afula, has been an outspoken advocate against terrorism and against foreign funding reaching terrorists. She went as part of a delegation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to The Hague, where she was interviewed by Spanish, French, and German reporters. Daniele also spoke at an event organized in Boston by the Israel Project. Unfortunately, the Palestinian terrorist who murdered Daniele’s son Ziad Kilani was released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal.    

Daniele does not comprehend how Palestinian suicide bombers and their families can be so cruel. She stresses that she can never understand parents who just lost their children yet hand out sweets and candy after their children are dead and just murdered Jews. According to Daniele, “Having a child is a gift from Hashem and someone who doesn’t appreciate that is something terrible. To fight is not the most important thing.”

How can journalists come to interview women like Daniele Knapp and Carmela Arami and then proceed to refer to their murderers as militants just because they were Israeli Jews murdered in Israel rather than US citizens massacred in the World Trade Center in New York City or Russian citizens who were killed while Russian forces tried to free them from Chechen terrorists that held them hostage in a Moscow theater or French cartoonists brutally slaughtered while working in the Charlie Hebdo Magazine in Paris?    How can a journalist do that and claim to be an ethical person?     After all, all human life matters, no matter if the terror victim is Israeli, French, Russian, American, Iraqi, Syrian, Nigerian, or any other nationality.  

I have always been a woman who stands behind her principles.   For this reason, I consider anybody regardless of their nationality who wantonly murders civilians to be a terrorist and don’t ever take into consideration that some academics believe that the Israeli situation is a bit different.  They claim that the Israeli presence in the West Bank somehow makes the behavior of Palestinian terrorists a bit better than that of terrorists who perform similar actions against members of other national groups around the world, supposedly because Israeli sovereignty over the green line is not justified in their world view and their actions are therefore merely a reaction to the so-called Israeli occupation.    I never bought into such hypocrisy and never will.   

For this reason, I faced a major moral dilemma while writing my MA thesis in the Middle Eastern Studies department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.   As I was writing my MA thesis there, my thesis advisor instructed me not to refer to Palestinian terror organizations as terrorists.    I was very much appalled by this instruction for obvious reasons.    But at the same time, my MA thesis advisor informed me that unless I refrained from calling Palestinian female suicide bombers terrorists, my MA thesis would not be accepted by the university.  

It is true that I could have tried to fight my thesis advisor on this but then I would risk not graduating with a thesis as there was no one else at BGU who specialized in radical Islam.  Indeed, prior to this thesis advisor accepting me, I was turned down by a number of professors who claimed that they lacked the qualifications to oversee such a thesis topic.   Furthermore, according to my thesis advisor, the issue was not so much him but the department itself.    Ben-Gurion University is notorious in Israel for being dominated by radical leftists.   They would never accept an MA thesis that called a spade what it is and insisted that all students be understanding of Palestinian grievances rather than Israeli terror victims.

Given this, I had no choice but to refrain from mentioning the term terrorist in my MA thesis as the MAPMES program had an inherent bias against everything that I stood for.  Furthermore, due to my strong campus pro-Israel activism, I had made many enemies among the radical leftists on campus and could not afford to make more, thus risking me completing my thesis.  My thesis advisor at the end of the day was one of the better professors in the program in that generally he taught from a balanced perspective and did educate his students about how Jews had been persecuted in the Muslim world.   This was the only instance where I had any problem with this professor and in all frankness, I was not 100 percent sure that it was him and not the department.   

Thus, when my thesis advisor suggested that I use the term militant, as a woman of principle, I refused.   I merely stated suicide bomber or suicide bombing dispatching organization, a compromise that my thesis advisor accepted.   However, I promised myself to edit my MA thesis to how I want it to be for the book version and share my whole story about the biases that existed at Ben-Gurion University once my MA thesis was approved.     

Anti-Israel bias at Ben-Gurion University  

          During my time at Ben-Gurion University, I encountered much anti-Israel bias.  For starters, the social coordinator for the international MA students in the Middle Eastern Studies department Noa Slor was a very active anti-Israel activist on campus when I was completing my coursework during the 2009-2010 Academic School Year.   She had partaken in a riot on campus following the Gaza Flotilla, which culminated in her waving provocative posters over a campus building.  Indeed, during our very first meeting, Slor was encouraging international students to support the extremist party Hadash.   

It is critical to note that according to Father Gabriel Naddaf, Arab Joint List Head Aymen Odeh of Hadash considers his political party to be part of the “historic front of Palestinian nationalism much like Fatah and the PLO.”   He views Israeli Arab citizens who do national service to be like lepers.  However, this did not prevent Noa Slor from advocating for Hadash, even after other students brought to her attention that Hadash has stronger anti-Israel rhetoric in Arabic and softens their language in Hebrew in order to attract Jewish Meretz voters.

This pro-Hadash bias was reflected in the trips that Noa Slor organized for the MAPMES students.  For the first major trip, which was held on January 20, 2010, Slor decided to take the MAPMES on a tour of East Jerusalem.   According to her e-mail, the tour included “Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives observation point, the Mount Scopus observation point, and the Separation Wall in the area of Abu Dis.”   The e-mail claimed that the tour would be given from “two different perspectives: that of a Palestinian who lives in one of the neighborhoods that we will visit in and that of a Jewish settler.”   

In reality, the tour guide Daniel Seideiman from Ir Amim was a far left wing Israeli Jew, who only demonstrated that perspective during the tour.  Arieh King of the Israel Land Fund, who represented the Jewish community in East Jerusalem, was given only a couple of hours to share his perspective inside of a café in the Jewish Quarter and was not given the opportunity to show us different sites in East Jerusalem from his perspective.   By the time that he was given the chance to speak, Seideiman basically had already convinced the audience of the far left wing perspective.   

As I previously wrote in an article published on the Israel Academia Monitor website, central aspects of the tour included ridiculing members of the Jewish community in East Jerusalem for wanting to reclaim Jewish-owned homes in the Shimon Ha-Tzadik and Silwan neighborhoods, where he felt it was obscene that Jews waved huge Israeli flags and lived in the area despite the rich Jewish history in the area.  He opposed the tearing down of Shephard’s Hotel and the building of four residential Jewish homes in its place despite the fact that the building was owned by the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, who was a Nazi war criminal.  He stood in opposition to the idea of E-1 being transformed into a passageway that would connect Maale Adumim to Jerusalem even though nobody lived there and it was mainly empty land at the time of the tour and he condemned the route of the Security Barrier, which Seideiman emphasized made it difficult for children in certain East Jerusalem neighborhoods to walk to school and has been an inconvenience for Arab traffic, even though he recognized as a side-note after I mentioned the subject that the Security Barrier has significantly reduced terrorism.   Throughout the entire tour, Seideiman never mentioned the context under which Israel gained control and continues to control East Jerusalem.   He did an effective job of convincing most of the international students on the tour that Israel had no justification for holding onto all of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s suburbs that fall over the green line.   

According to a students blog, during the Passover holiday, an Israeli “who has helped us foreign students to feel welcome” that is a passionate left wing female activist took three MAPMES students and an Arab Israeli student home for the Passover Seder and then on the following day, brought the international students and the Arab Israeli student to Land Day in the West Bank.   At this particular demonstration, this MAPMES student reports in their blog that Palestinians started to throw stones at the IDF.   While the Israeli host and the Arab Israeli student departed after the stone throwing, the Israeli host evidently did not force all of the international students to leave with them.    As a result of this irresponsible decision, two international students had their eyes stung with tear gas.   

The second major trip, which was held on April 23, 2010, was even less balanced than the East Jerusalem tour.   During this particular trip, Noa Slor arranged for the MAPMES students to visit Hebron with Breaking the Silence, which NGO Monitor has highlighted to be a very politicized non-governmental organization with a left wing extremist political agenda that often provokes riots amongst Israeli settlers and has a raison d’être of criticizing the IDF’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza.   According to the original e-mail, the goals of the tour was to “witness the harsh situation in the region and to learn more about the power relations between Palestinians and Jews in Hebron in the context of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.   The tour will include a walking tour of the Old City of Hebron and a visit to a Palestinian family in Tel Rumeida.”  

After this e-mail, I sent out a series of e-mails criticizing this tour for not even trying to create balance.   Only after a long exchange of e-mails amongst me and other classmates did Noa Slor decide to make the trip more balanced by including a member of the Hebron Jewish community for one hour.  Even still, the balance was tipped in favor of Breaking the Silence and Slor justified her initial position in an e-mail sent to the entire class of not wanting initially to include anything but pro-Palestinian positions in the tour because to include the position of Hebron’s Jewish community in any tour was equivalent in her worldview to giving rapists the right to speak alongside rape victims:  “I think that striving for balance is actually pointless and impossible. There will always be another argument that can be made, another opinion to express and another idea to vocalize. The meaning of balance itself is subjected to interpretation. That is to say, who decides what ‘balance’ is and how it can be kept? Does an organization such as women against abuse that provides services to victims of domestic violence and tries to raise awareness to domestic violence among teenagers need to organize sessions not only with the victims themselves (that will tell their story) but also with the rapists or the attackers in order to hear their story so that a ‘balance’ will be kept? I personally don't think so.” 

Given Slor’s proven bias, it should come as no surprise that the whole Hebron trip was slanted in a left wing extremist direction, even though Noa Slor did include thanks to my protests a one hour lecture at the end by Noam Amon of the Hebron Jewish community.  This profoundly affected many of the international students on the tour.  A one hour lecture is not sufficient to properly counter an entire day of propaganda initiated by Breaking the Silence, a fact that Slor acknowledged in another email.   Nevertheless, it was better than nothing. 

Unfortunately, Noa Slor was not the only radical left-wing extremist who held a prominent position within my program.   For my “Selected Topics in the Geography of the Middle East Class,” I had the misfortune of studying under Prof. Oren Yiftachel, who taught international students that “Israel is in a colonial situation with the Palestinians,” “the whole Israeli state is what you call an ethnocracy,” “Ashkenazis colonize the Mizrahim,” “Israeli Arabs have ghetto citizenship,” “Israel is like Sudan in ethnocratic structure,” and that “Israel imposes Judaism on her Palestinian citizens.”  He also compared Israel to apartheid in South Africa and claimed that those who opposed MK Haneen Zoabi’s participation in the Flotilla were “fascists” and that Israeli society was “racist” for being upset about what she did.  It was due to statements like these by Yiftachel that I decided to get involved with Israel Academia Monitor, where I worked for a couple of years as a researcher.   

After sitting through about a month’s worth of classes, I felt that the way that Yiftachel was teaching this class was very one-sided and thus unprofessional.   So, after doing an internet search, I discovered Israel Academia Monitor (IAM). After checking with Dana Barnett who runs IAM, I send two post describing Yiftachel’s use of the classroom to promote his political agenda.  I hoped that publicizing the issue would encourage Yiftachel to teach in a more objective manner.   However, even though I published my first two posts anonymously, Yiftachel figured out that the person who was writing the exposes was me and arranged to have me intimidated by the head of the Middle Eastern Studies department at the time, Dr. Avi Rubin.

Upon the publication of my second post, Rubin sent me an e-mail stating, “Your defamatory web postings re Professor Yiftachel and Dr. Cohen’s class have been brought to my attention.   I wish to meet with you and discuss the possible ramifications of this.”   Both Israel Academia Monitor and I interpreted this e-mail as an attempt to silence my freedom of speech.    As a result, I was advised not to respond to this e-mail and was put in touch with the well-known attorney, Dr. Haim Misgav.  I also followed Misgav’s advice not to respond to Rubin’s second e-mail.

Then, on April 25, 2010, I received a phone call from Rubin, where he demanded an explanation for why I did not answer him.   On the phone, he pretended that he just wanted to mediate between Yiftachel and myself, stressing that he didn’t mean me any harm.   However, after I received Rubin’s response to my attorney’s letter, it became clear that Rubin did not have my best intentions at heart.   He accused me of lying, refused requests to remain impartial on this issue until hearing my side of the story, and decided to side with Yiftachel before even hearing what I had to say.   It was decided that there would be a meeting between Yiftachel, the university’s legal department, and Cohen, who was Yiftachel’s assistant.   My attorney, a pro-Israel professor, and a sympathetic member of the Board of Governors would also be present.  

Fortunately, the pressure wore off after this exchange, thanks to the fact that I met with Yiftachel, where he refused to help me with my final paper before lecturing me about how I hurt his feelings.  Nevertheless, he backed off after this meeting when I said that I would try to understand where he was coming from.  But the pressure started up again after the publication of the Im Tirtzu Report to the Knesset Education Committee, where my story was featured prominently.  During our next meeting to discuss my final paper, he more or less refused to help me at all and instead lectured me on how what I was doing was unethical.   He claimed that I had violated university policies, that this had the potential to be a war between the two of us, that what Israel Academia Monitor was doing was like McCarthyism, that I was guilty of slandering him and that I had no right to criticize him unless I had a PhD.    I was so scared and intimidated during that meeting.   I found that only through lying to him would I be able to complete the class in peace, so that is what I did.  I honestly believe that the only reason why I was not significantly down-graded was the fact that a sympathetic member of the Board of Governors arranged with BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi to have a neutral professor check my paper and override Yiftachel’s grade if I felt at all that I was downgraded.

Unfortunately, Yiftachel and Rubin were not the only ones that tried to intimidate me.  Additionally, I attended a BGU human rights conference that was organized especially for students.    There, Dr. Neve Gordon, who is infamous for his views supporting the BDS Movement, tried to intimidate me into leaving by interrupting one of the speakers by blurting out in front of everyone that I work for some monitor and that I was recording the event.   Later on, he emphasized that I could not publish any thing about the BGU human rights conference without the permission of the conference organizers.  Gordon did this despite the fact that I was an MA student at BGU and thus had just as much right to be there as any other student, as well as to write about what happened on university property.   I later learned that a committee of evaluation created by the Council of Higher Education concluded that the Department of Politics and Government where Gordon set the tone should be closed.  In taking such a radical step the committee criticized the left-wing bias of the professors and the absence of a proper political science curriculum.  Instead, the Department offered classes that were marginal to political science, but in line with the leftist ideology of the professors. 

How the anti-Israel atmosphere at BGU influenced the study of terrorism

This anti-Israel atmosphere that existed within the MAPMES program as well as in the Politics and Government department at Ben-Gurion University had a profound affect on anyone that wanted to write about counter-terrorism issues or was opposed to the glorification of terrorism.  In a class taught by Dr. Maya Rosenfeld titled “Palestinian Society in the Diaspora and in the Occupied Territories: Trends of Social and Political Change,” a student reported that on March 6, 2011, Rosenfeld discussed Ghassan Kanafani, a leading terrorist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that highjacked numerous airplanes.   When he was alive, Kanafani was the terror groups’ official spokesman and he edited their newspaper.  

Right before his elimination, a picture was published of Kanafani appearing together with one of the Japanese terrorists responsible for the Lod Airport Massacre, which resulted in the murder of 26 Israelis.  Nevertheless, the class was assigned to read Kanafani’s essayThe Land of Sad Oranges.  It appears that for Rosenfeld, Kanafani was not a terrorist for “the only battles that Kanafani fought in were battles in literature and writing.”  According to Rosenfeld, Kanafani was a Palestinian refugee from the 1948 War who was famous for his writings about refugeeness.   She claimed that the story The Land of Sad Oranges was autobiographical in a sort.   When Rosenfeld stated this, one could not help but think about the part of the story where the protagonist’s uncle broke into the home of a Lebanese Jewish family, threw their belongings out of their home, and violently forced them out of their home while yelling at them to “Go to Palestine!”   It has an uncanny resemblance to what my husbands’ Iraqi side of the family experienced in Baghdad, Iraq.   As my husband’s Aunt Mazal Elijah told the Jewish Press:

Right around Israel’s independence, continuous massacres against Jews occurred in Iraq and during these massacres, Arabs broke into Jews homes, stole whatever they wanted, and then flooded the homes, so that Jews would not be able to live in them anymore.   Furthermore, Iraqi Jewish women traditionally would make preserved foods so that certain types of vegetables would be preserved for the winter months.  The Arab thieves would eat up all of the preserves that the Iraqi Jewish women worked very hard to prepare, thus leaving Iraqi Jewish women with nothing.  Rapes occurred all the time.   If an Arab barged into your home and demanded to marry your daughter, it was impossible to refuse him.   Iraqi Jewish women were forced to wear the veil for their own protection.   Pretty Iraqi Jewish women were hidden by their families, so that the Arabs would not demand to marry them.  Women could not leave the home without an escort and they weren’t allowed to work, except to sew, knit, or do beauty jobs for women.  It was not even possible for an Iraqi Jewish woman to go out for a movie.

Sadly, not only Iraqi Jews but also Jews across the Middle East and North Africa region experienced such overt persecution that prompted them to flee their countries of origin and immigrate to Israel following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.   As Flora Cohen, a relative on the Moroccan side of my husband’s family who recalls the murder of her grandfather and his brother alongside the abduction, rape and forceful conversion to Islam of another female relative, noted:

Once the Moroccans rose up against the French in their struggle for independence, the situation dramatically deteriorated for Moroccan Jews.  Terrorism was widespread within the country and Jews were also the victims of such violence.  The situation in Morocco was very much similar to Israel during the Second Intifada.  There were explosions everywhere.   Supermarkets were blowing up.  People were scared to go out.  My brother was almost murdered by Arabs but another Arab saved his life by lying and claiming that he was an Arab Muslim from Fez.  Soon after this incident, the family decided that they had to leave Morocco and make Aliyah to Israel, even though they were not allowed to bring more things with them than what they could fit in one suitcase.  This is when most of the Jews in Morocco made Aliyah to Israel.

Unfortunately, Rosenfeld did not speak about the suffering that Mizrahi Jewish families experienced in Arab majority countries, what Kanafani’s uncle plausibly did to the Lebanese Jewish family mentioned in his essay that is partially autobiographical, or what other suffering that his family may have inflected on this Lebanese Jewish family that was not mentioned in The Land of Sad Oranges.   What mattered to Rosenfeld was that Kanafani was a “victim of a revenge operation,” was a “loved writer” who remains “well-known and well-translated,” that she personally likes his writing, and feels that “it’s a pity he died” because “he would have produced more good works.”   She did not mention Kanafani’s connections with the terrorists responsible for the Lod Airport Massacre at all.

Additionally, following the Gaza Flotilla incident in 2010, anti-Israel protesters at Ben-Gurion University waved Palestinian flags, shouting “Long Live Palestine,” “By spirit and by blood, we will redeem you,” “a thousand blessings to the warriors of freedom; a thousand blessings to the shahids (martyrs) of freedom,” and “Erdogan oh beloved, we want you to punish (bomb) Tel Aviv.”  Gordon participated in this pro-terror glorification rally, holding a sign proclaiming in Arabic: “War criminals to trial.”

In the face of living in an area surrounded by such glorifications for terrorism, it is very difficult to study terrorism objectively, especially when numerous professors in your department hold anti-Israel positions and they hold the keys on whether your thesis is accepted or not.      It should not be like this.   As I wrote in the Jewish Press, “It is important to study the Middle East but not in the way that it is currently being done!  It should be done in a way that you actually learn; that you actually gain something, a marketplace of ideas.   It should not be only one opinion.  And oh, you cannot challenge it if you don’t have a PhD.  That’s not how it works.  Students also have academic freedom and my academic freedom should be respected just as much as anybody else.”  However, despite the difficult situation that I found myself in, I promised myself that I will appease as little as humanly possible and in the end, take a strong stand against terrorists and those that glorify them.  Since I finished grad school, I have dedicated my life to practicing ethical journalism, covering terrorism in a way that doesn’t appease terror organizations, and standing up to anyone that engages in terror appeasement.

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