A new initiative of dual degree between Tel Aviv and Columbia Universities is under attack. The Program inaugurates in the fall of 2020, to provide the opportunity for students wishing to pursue a rigorous undergraduate liberal arts education spanning two continents. As part of the program, students will begin their college education in one of six academic programs at Tel Aviv University. Upon completion of the four-year program, graduates earn two bachelor’s degrees, one from each institution.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) accuses Columbia University of "importing racism from Israel." SJP denounces the elite US university for choosing to connect with an institution “complicit in Israel's oppression of Palestinians." SJP joins Jewish Voice for Peace in asking Columbia University to reconsider, or "face becoming part of the oppressive architecture of the Israeli state."
SJP argues that “Israel has targeted Palestinian students, graduate workers and faculty members based at American universities with years-long travel bans from their homeland and research sites, often with little to no clear justification." According to SJP, Columbia University risks "abetting systemic anti-Palestinian racism and reproducing the racial inequalities of Israeli policies", unless it attempts to address these issues.
One staff member, Katherine Franke, the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia university, who collaborates with SJP, said she was surprised to hear about the program. "Had we been consulted, we would have raised issues relating to Columbia creating a new program that is not accessible to many of our students explicitly because of their nationality, ethnicity, and/or political speech. "It is akin to Columbia creating a dual degree program with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1980s," she said.
As IAM reported in June 2018, Franke was refused entry to Israel for being a proponent of BDS. In 2012 Franke has made a public declaration
supporting the Palestinian call for BDS against Israel upon boycotting the "Equality Forum", which chose Israel as a nation to discuss its culture and policies toward LGBTQ individuals. Franke was a panelist in February 2016 at the “Israeli Apartheid Week” discussing the book “The Case for Academic Boycott.” Franke has been a signatory of the 2016 “Faculty Petition” supporting Columbia University Apartheid Divest statement. Franke’s University page lists her as a member of the executive committee of the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University, her writings include "Why We Boycotted the Equality Forum: Gay Rights Become a Tool in Israel's Rebranding Campaign." and "PFLAG Holds Israeli Pinkwashing Event."
SJP argues that "Tel Aviv University is a known accomplice of the Israeli military industrial complex and complicit in the displacement and occupation of Palestinians." Such accusations have been circulating the BDS sphere and it is clear where they were coming from. "Academia for Equality," a group of Israeli "dissident academics" (aka neo-Marxist, critical scholars), announced a collection of database which they call "Complicit Academy". They began working on the database since early 2017, using a small batch of articles compiled by Shir Hever, an Israeli economic researcher. The database includes items on the "repression of Palestinian academics in Israel and the West Bank." The database reveals how the Israeli academy works in concert with the state. The project comprises of news articles, documents, NGO reports, and official university publications to “shed light on Israeli academic institutions’ repression of dissent, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian-Israeli students and faculty, collusion with the settlement enterprise, military R&D, and hasbara." The rationale behind the database is to provide "empirical evidence to counter the prevailing narrative of Israeli academia as a bastion of opposition and resistance to the regime... Israeli academia, from the Council for Higher Education to the various student unions, collaborates in one way or another with the occupation.” Ironically, many in the Academia for Equality are Israeli scholars employed by Israeli academic institutions with a salary paid by the taxpayers.
The most astonishing part of the Academia for Equality database refers to "institutional racism against Palestinian students in Israeli universities and colleges." Israeli academic institutions are even accused of "discriminatory admissions policies." Nothing could be further from the truth. It is well known that Palestinian students enjoy equal freedoms and made enormous strides in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Technion, known as the “MIT of Israel,” has offered remedial classes to Palestinian students to increase enrollment. The Jerusalem Engineering College has tripled its Palestinian student body in recent years. All this is to encourage the Palestinians to graduate from programs that provide technological skills and financial stability later in life. In fact, a survey conducted by Israel’s Council for Higher Education in January 2018, found that the number of Arab students in Israeli universities grew by 78.5% over the past seven years.
In addition to a misrepresentation of the situation in Israel, the SJP students also engage in blatant hypocrisy. They argue that the dual program of Columbia with Tel Aviv University will not allow participation to some students from nationalities unable to enter Israel. Yet, they don’t complain about the fact that Israeli students and scholars have never been able to participate in programs that take place in most Arab and Muslim countries.
The BDS movement has turned the American universities into a highly successful platform for its activities. Columbia University is one of its prominent BDS venues.
Students accuse Columbia University of 'importing racism' from Israel
Activists angered by Tel Aviv University and Columbia University forming a dual degree - the first partnership of its kind between Israel and the US
By Azad Essa in New York City
11 December 2019 14:57 UTC | Last update:
1 week 3 days ago
Following news that Columbia University will be starting a dual degree programme with Tel Aviv University in 2020, student activists have denounced the elite US university for choosing to tie its future to an institution complicit in Israel's oppression of Palestinians.
In a petition released by students affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), activists urged the university to reconsider the degree, or face becoming part of the oppressive architecture of the Israeli state.
"Columbia risks violating Title VI of the Higher Education Act by operating a programme that, as a matter of conforming to official Israeli government policy, would require the university to discriminate against students on the basis of their race and/or national origin with regards to their access to education," the petition read.
"Israel has targeted Palestinian students, graduate workers and faculty members based at American universities with years-long travel bans from their homeland and research sites, often with little to no clear justification. Without providing due recourse to address such issues and support university affiliates, Columbia risks abetting systemic anti-Palestinian racism and reproducing the racial inequalities of Israeli policies on our own campus."
On 5 December, the School of General Studies at Columbia University in New York City announced that it would be establishing a dual degree programme with Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Nasreen Abdelal, a student organiser with SJP at Columbia, told Middle East Eye that given the degree will only begin in late 2020, the university still had time to make amends.
"There is no acknowledgement of the geopolitical dimension of creating a programme like this. Or how it could work given Israel's nation-state law, its anti-boycott laws and the expansion of settlements," Abdelal said.
Abdelal said students could be potentially subjected to racial, national and religious profiling. She added that the lack of transparency over the establishment of the programme has left students and faculty wondering how it was approved in the first place.
These concerns were further echoed by Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia.
Franke told MEE she was surprised to hear about the programme "as it was created without any meaningful input from faculty or students".
"Had we been consulted, we would have raised issues relating to Columbia creating a new programme that is not accessible to many of our students explicitly because of their nationality, ethnicity, and/or political speech.
"It is akin to Columbia creating a dual degree programme with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1980s."
Last week, Columbia University announced that it would be creating a scholarship for displaced students.
In its press release, Columbia said the "university-wide scholarship is unprecedented in Columbia’s history and is the first such initiative in the world".
"This programme represents a monumental undertaking for Columbia, one that has the potential to transform global education for displaced students," the university said.
But Abdelal described Columbia's decision to simultaneously announce a partnership with an Israeli university and a plan to assist displaced students as "plain dissonance" and "completely contradictory".
"Tel Aviv University is a known accomplice of the Israeli military industrial complex and complicit in the displacement and occupation of Palestinians. Would Palestinians be able to join this degree when they won't be able to travel [into Tel Aviv]?" Abdelal asked.
The School of General Studies at Columbia University did not reply to MEE’s request for a response to SJP's concerns, nor has the university released an official response to SJP's petition.
But in an earlier statement released by the department, School of General Studies dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch said she was "especially excited about our partnership with Tel Aviv University, which is consistently ranked among the best academic institutions worldwide".
"By giving students the opportunity to study full time at a top-tier university in the Middle East before bringing them to study in the Ivy League, they will not only benefit from being immersed in a wide range of cultures and experiences, but will also make an immense contribution to the Columbia undergraduate classroom,” Rosen-Metsch said.
Likewise, Tel Aviv University Vice President Raanan Rein described the programme as "a milestone in Tel Aviv University’s globalisation strategy".
According to Abdelal from SJP, the School of General Studies has been framing the partnership as the consolidation of its relationship with Israel.
"We want to know the full extent of the relationship between the school and Israel. There are many former Israeli soldiers at the School for General Studies," she said.
The partnership between Columbia University and Tel Aviv University comes at a time of unprecedented calls for US universities to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation.
Last week, an advisory body made up of students, alumni and faculty at Brown University in Providence in Rhode Island urged the university administration to divest from companies deemed to be facilitating the Israeli occupation.
Though many US university student bodies have passed resolutions calling for divestment, only Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts has so far implemented said resolutions.
While the resolution is not binding, Brown is the first Ivy league university to have passed such a resolution in what scholars and activists describe as a shifting climate in the academic community towards Israel.
Is academia the last bastion of progressive thought in Israel?
By Edo Konrad
January 23, 2018
Israeli universities have long been viewed as a bulwark against extremism. A new database, compiled by a group of Israeli dissident academics, reveals how the academy works in concert with the state.
It’s no secret that the Israeli government’s crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years has extended into the academy. Through far-right student groups such as Im Tirzu
, proposed ethical codes that would bar professors from voicing political opinions in class
, and attempts to shut down entire university departments deemed too left-wing, the government has in many ways framed the very idea of academic freedom as subversive.
Nevertheless, Israeli academia is still held up as an independent, progressive bulwark against extremist and reactionary thought, an argument that is often deployed to combat Palestinian-led academic boycotts. But beneath the rhetoric, the truth is that Israel’s universities work closely with various state bodies, from the military and arms industries to anti-BDS networks and programs.
Concerned over the clampdown, as well as by the suppression of Palestinian faculty and students in the occupied territories, a new group of Israeli academics called Academia for Equality is working to expose those ties, and challenge the idea that academia remains one of the Jewish state’s last bastions of progressive thought.
As one of its first major projects aimed at documenting and demonstrating those phenomena, the group is set to release a database called “Complicit Academy,” comprised of local and international news articles, documents, NGO reports, and official university publications. The idea, says Natalie Rothman, an associate professor of history at University of Toronto, who helped spearhead the project, is to shed light on Israeli academic institutions’ repression of dissent, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian-Israeli students and faculty, collusion with the settlement enterprise, military R&D, and hasbara
(Israeli state-sponsored PR operations abroad). The database aims to provide academics, in Israel and abroad, better tools for understanding how, contrary to its image, Israeli academia works in concert with the occupation. “The rationale behind the database was providing empirical evidence to counter the the prevailing narrative of Israeli academia as a bastion of opposition and resistance to the regime,” says Rothman, “Israeli academia, from the Council for Higher Education to the various student unions, collaborates in one way or another with the occupation.
It was important for us to document the collaboration as a way to see if, down the line, something could be done to combat it.”
Members of Academia for Equality began working on the database in early 2017, using a small batch of articles compiled by Shir Hever, an Israeli economic researcher, as a jumping off point. The group then expanded the collection to include items on the repression of Palestinian academics in Israel and the West Bank. The database, all of which is based on publicly available materials, is divided into four categories — International Academy, International Funding, Israeli Academy, and Palestinian Academy.
The database also gives the public a way to track top academics’ records on academic freedom. For instance, the database includes a collection of articles on the attempts of Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi — who was recently appointed to a third term by the university — to censor political activism on her campus
The database makes it easy for the general public to monitor several important trends in Israeli academia today, including: the growing number of university programs designed to battle “delegitimization,”
one of the most visible developments of the last few years; institutional racism
against Palestinian students in Israeli universities and colleges — ranging from discriminatory admissions policies to prohibitions on the use of Arabic
to surveillance and restrictions on political organizing
; the pervasiveness of “customized” academic programs geared toward military personnel offered by virtually all Israeli universities, often with significantly reduced academic requirements; the creeping collaboration between Israeli institutions within the Green Line and their “offshoots,” off-campus facilities, programs, or sponsored colleges in settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights; and collaboration between universities and state bodies on militaristic endeavors like marketing Israel’s arms trade
A section on the Palestinian academy, on the other hand, is full of documentation of raids by Israeli security forces on campuses and the arrests of students and faculty across the West Bank. It also focuses on on the lack freedom of movement for Gaza students, and opeds decrying the silence of Israeli academics in the face of the repression faced by their Palestinian counterparts.
Complicit Academy, currently in its final stages, will be officially launched and uploaded to the Academia for Equality website in the coming weeks. Rothman says she hopes it can act as a library of sorts for academics abroad, who can use it to look for articles about their institutions’ ties to Israeli academic institutions. But the database is also meant for Israelis and Palestinians, Rothman adds: “It is important for us that the information be accessible to those inside Israel, which is why the database in Hebrew, as well as in English and Arabic. We want people both in and outside of Israeli academia to have access to these publications.”
The goal, Rothman continues, is not only to challenge misconceptions about Israeli academia, but also to actively challenge its relationship to the government and the occupation. “Yes, there is a small group of dissidents in the academia, yet our institutions collaborate on a day-to-day basis with the regime. We have the opportunity to shed light on the fact that this collaboration exists, both overtly and covertly, effectively normalizing what in our eyes cannot be normalized.”
Edo Konrad is the editor-in-chief of +972 Magazine. Based in Tel Aviv, he previously worked as an editor for Haaretz.