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Tel Aviv University
TAU Anat Matar and Academia for Equality - Are They Promoting Human Rights?


Editorial Note

Dr. Anat Matar, TAU senior lecturer emerita, has more time than ever to engage in political activism.  As IAM noted, she is a veteran radical activist who spent most of her academic career engaging in radical causes which left her precious little time to engage in research in the field for which she was hired.  So much so, that she was never promoted beyond the rank of senior lecturer.  She, along with a number of radical scholars at TAU whose political activism was supported by the Israeli taxpayer.  Among others, she co-edited the book Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, in a field she has no expertise. Even worse, she promoted BDS against Israel, for years.

These days, she is also involved with Academia for Equality (A4E) which she co-founded, a group “dedicated to advancing equality and democratization of Israeli academia and society.”   In 2017, a delegation from A4E travelled to Istanbul to support Turkish academics imprisoned by the authorities for voicing political opinions.  As well known, Turkey jailed thousands of academics, journalists, and civil servants for criticizing President Erdogan and his brutal treatment of Kurds and dissenters. A4E wrote, “In the summer of 2015, following the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey launched a brutal attack against the Kurds, which included the bombing of entire cities identified with the PKK, as well as the raping and massacring of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their hometowns.”  

A4E used their visit to compare Israel to Turkey, stating that  “in Israel, too, we have been experiencing more and more violations of the freedom of speech and open academic inquiry in recent years:  conferences and lectures have been cancelled due to party pressures; faculty members have faced threats after making statements that challenge the status quo; and, of course, the formulation of the “code of ethics” has aimed to ban academics from voicing political opinions on, or showing support for, the academic boycott of Israel.”    

At a June 2018 conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Matar and her team introduced the so-called “complicit academy” database. That is, documenting Israeli "academic institutions’ repression of dissent", as well as "institutionalized racism against Palestinian students and faculty". It also registered "collusion with the settlement project", and "military research and development". It also looked at "hasbara operations abroad". The database also included tracking "repression and resistance in the Palestinian academy, and international academic institutions’ collaboration with and critique of their Israeli peers."

In a new open letter which Matar recently published, she wrote that "We would like to extend an open invitation to colleagues from Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora, and from around the world to get in touch with us and consider us as potential hosts for talks and lectures." Matar promises that since Academia for Equality is not affiliated with an individual institution it is able to host academics "who wish not to violate BDS guidelines".

The activities of the Academia for Equality in general and Matar’s position in particular, are a breathtaking exercise in double standards.  Israel has never attested Israeli students or faculty for voicing opposition to official policies.  If Matar lived in Turkey she would undoubtedly be in jail. In Israel, as noted, she received a salary for essentially full-time political activism.   

Palestinian academics and students are not so lucky.  The Palestinian Authority arrests students suspected of protesting the PA, particularly if they challenge the dominant Fatah position.  According to reports, since the beginning of the current academic year, the PA arrested 12 students and then released them. The student-run Facebook group The Voice of Palestinian Students, has documented some five additional arrests by the PA forces in October.  The Palestinian Authority has not held any general election since 2005 which means that the Palestinian People are not participating in the democratic process.

For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip it is even harsher.  The Hamas rulers of the Strip have kept the population under a brutal political dictatorship.  According to Human Rights Watch, imprisonment and death sentences are routinely used against all those who are perceived to be enemies of the authorities.  Democracy does not exist, and the rare protest is met with deadly force. 

If Matar and the Academia for Equality were really interested in democracy and human rights, as they claim, they could bring the poor record of the PA and Hamas to public knowledge.  However, this is not likely to happen because the group is dedicated to the proposition that “the Palestinians cannot do anything wrong and the Israelis cannot do anything right.”  The scurrilous comparison between Israel and Turkey in their treatment or academics is just one more step in this direction. 


Matar's latest book in Hebrew is No Moral Ground: On the Poverty of Ethics. For her, morality is left-wing. Her main concern now is that the "ongoing deterioration into the abyss" on the political level, might lead to the end of the Left. 

But Matar and her comrades on the radical-Left are in fact promoting contradictions. The Palestinian national struggle is no way near to the Philosophy espoused by the Left. And this is the moral bankruptcy of Matar and her ilk. 




Solidarity with Palestinian Academia and the struggle against the Occupation

Our team works to develop in a responsible and ethical way ties and solidarity relations with individual Palestinian academics and academic institutions. We advance solidarity work among other things by turning the spotlight on Israeli academy complicity and collusion with the occupation, militarization, and the repression of Palestinian academia. We protest violations of academic freedoms, as well as of Palestinian basic rights and freedoms.

The joint international campaign launched in 2016 by University of Kadoorie in Tul Karem, Palestine, and Academia for Equality demanded the removal of military forces from campus territories, where there was an active shooting range. The campaign successfully drew international support, and ended when the military announced it will no longer hold trainings in the shooting range. This was a rare opportunity to lay the ground for solidarity work of Israeli academics with academics from Palestine after decades during which such ties were virtually cut off. During the campaign and in its aftermath we struggled with various questions such as how can we avoid “normalizing” relations yet not give up on hands-on solidarity work? Should we use our capacity as Israeli citizens to exert pressure on the IDF and Israeli authorities in general and is this the only possible course of action? Are we capable of acting as equals in the framework of a joint initiative despite operating under conditions of extreme inequality?

Our goal is to strengthen ties with Palestinian academia in the Occupied Territories. We work with the realization that we can be most effective in engendering visibility for and drawing a public reaction to the denial of the right of education both in Israel and world-wide. Our ambition is to continue to develop new means of defending academic freedom as we direct our gaze inwards, to our own institutional complicity, exposing Israeli academy involvement in the policy of repression and in the occupation at large. This led us to create a database “Complicit Academy” that documents repression of dissent, institutionalized racism against Palestinian students and faculty, collusion with the settlement project, military research and development, and institutional participation in “hasbara” operations abroad. It also tracks repression and resistance in the Palestinian academy, and international academic institutions’ collaboration with and critique of their Israeli peers. The database is meant to provide us, academics in Israel and worldwide, better tools to understand the relation between the institutions where we work and teach, and the political realities on the ground for the purpose of changing these realities within and outside academia.

As part of our anti-occupation activities, we also struggle against the militarization of Israeli academia. As soon as the details of the tender won by Hebrew University of Jerusalem to host the IDF intelligence unit "Havatzalot" were made public, we mounted public and international pressure on the university not to yield to the demands of the IDF to build a military base on campus where the soldiers will be housed, and not to allow interventions in academic content and considerations. We believe that if the plan is executed and becomes a normalized reality this would have severe implication on the entire higher education system in Israel. Our position paper (Hebrew) details our principled objection to the loss of academic autonomy, on the basis of considerations foreign to academic standards and principles.

Our activities hence go well beyond signing letters and petitions. For instance, in our social media campaigns we also highlight the achievements of Palestinian academia, despite the harsh repression. We initiate public events such as a conference prompted by the international Kadoorie campaign at Haifa University “Kadoorie University - from Mandate to the Occupation”. During this event, panels discussed the unique history of this institution, its relation and relevance to Israeli society, and its current predicament under the occupation. At another event held at SOAS in London in June 2018, we introduced the “complicit academy” database and discussed with students and activists relevant issues. Such public events allow us to bring the question of academic complicity and responsibility to the fore and to reach out to academics and activists who are similarly concerned with Israel Palestine in the academic context. In addition to that, since its inception, Academia for Equality, because of its non-institutional grassroots formation and independence, is able to host academics and experts from Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora and experts from around the world who wish not to violate BDS guidelines yet are willing to address audiences in Israel.

We would like to extend an open invitation to colleagues from Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora, and from around the world to get in touch with us and consider us as potential hosts for talks and lectures.

Head team: Anat Matar, contact: anatmatar@gmail.com





(Second part of the article) 

In a newly published book (in Hebrew), “No Moral Ground: On the Poverty of Ethics,” philosopher Anat Matar puts forward a provocative thesis: that morality is left-wing.

In her book, Matar, a political activist who is known for her struggle on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners and Israeli conscientious objectors, takes issue with several modern philosophers of morality and ethics. She objects particularly to the attempt to set general moral principles, and to determine on their basis how to live and which are the worthiest political positions. In her view, “The shoulders of the accepted moral approach are too narrow to serve as a base for political thought and political activity.”

If so, how can we decide what the worthy outlook is? According to Matar, there is no point in aspiring to an objective, unbiased moral stance, because human beings are “political animals, self-interested and active.” Thus, every moral viewpoint is necessarily motivated by a political interest. The abstract morality that purports to be universal is simply the morality of victors. The left-wing approach is the backstop of ethics, and not vice versa, as is usually thought.

Like several philosophers since Nietzsche, Matar shows that liberal moral philosophy, which purports to be free of prior assumptions, is actually religious in disguise. Even if it presents itself as a secular approach, God can be found at its base. Abstract morality was ostensibly severed from its Christian roots. In the premodern era, morality was closely associated with religion. Anyone who did not belong to the Church or to some other religious community, could not be considered a good person. In a godless world, Matar offers the left-wing ethos as a kind of alternative root of morality. Even if she doesn’t say so explicitly, she presents the left-wing community as something of a modern substitute for the Church; for her, there is no moral redemption outside the left.

Matar deserves praise for shattering the supposedly self-evident notion that politics should be subordinate to morality. This is a courageous position, which can hardly be taken for granted in an era when people worship ethical codes and the empty ideal of “decency.” But it bears noting that in previous periods in the history of the left, Matar’s arguments would have been considered almost self-evident. By this I am referring primarily to the Marxist-Leninist conceptual world. The Bolsheviks viewed conventional morality as an ideology serving the bourgeois class. But the Bolshevik case also illustrates the low point that’s liable to be reached by an outlook that posits victory in the class war over morality. The history of the left is studded with similar nadirs – and not only in the Soviet Union.

The left-wing thinkers praised by Matar generally acted from a heroic minority position. But it bears mentioning that some of those dauntless socialist intellectuals in the German-speaking world, for example, became ruthless executioners after World War II – or, in other cases, fell victim to that same morality that is colored red.

Into the abyss

Puzzlingly, Matar asserts that today, “it is quite clear to every sensible person which struggles are worthy of being described as ‘moral.’” True, in her view there are moral quandaries that are as yet undecided, such as “confrontations between feminist and trans groups over the use of public toilets,” but these are exceptions. She is undoubtedly aware that in the 20th century, left-wingers slaughtered one another over different interpretations of the same left-wing message. Actually, that happened not only in the last century: It’s enough to recall the debate that raged in the most recent decade between radical left-wing circles about the proper attitude to be taken toward the war in Syria, or toward the Arab Spring as a whole, in order to ascertain that Matar’s confidence in the clarity of the left-wing position is too hasty.

Another problem is that there isn’t much import to left-wing morality in a world in which the left-wing camp is fading away. Matar crosses swords mainly with liberal or moderate philosophers, such as Martha Nussbaum or Emmanuel Levinas and his followers. The right, and certainly the extreme right, is outside the sphere of the discussion, and the rival is the liberal intellectual. That stance may have been appropriate for the situation that existed in the 1990s, and perhaps in the decade before it, in which liberalism was the hegemonic ideology. The present-day world has become, to a large extent, right wing, nationalist and conservative, and the left-wing camp – liberal or radical – has become depleted and is even vanishing in many places. Red morality, together with the community that bore its standard, has become almost extinct in large areas of the globe.

Toward the end of the book, Matar, too, admits that we are on a course of “ongoing deterioration into the abyss, both political and ecological,” and raises the frightening possibility of a post-left world. At the same time, she seems not to consider the meaning of morality and politics in this harrowing situation, which, indeed, should be a point of departure for all thought in the 21st century.

Ofri Ilany



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