Warmongering Hebrew University tries to muzzle Palestinian students

| Yara Sa'di pour The Electronic Intifada |

Back in 1969, the civil rights activist Angela Davis complained of how third-level education was being hijacked.

Research grants were being awarded by the US government to “force the scholar to develop more efficient means, for example, of furthering the war in Vietnam.”

Speaking at the University of California, Los Angeles, Davis said : “The university has become political in a very overt sense. It has become political as far as politics are defined by the controlling political apparatus in this country.”

Her comments could be applied to Israeli academic institutions today. On Monday this week, the giant US weapons-maker Lockheed Martin announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with Yissum Research and Development Company. Yissum is a “technology transfer” firm belonging to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The deal could lead to “more efficient means” of killing Palestinians. It also enables the privatization of knowledge.

Lockheed will reportedly be able to enjoy monopoly “rights” over any innovations realized by this partnership. Scientists working for a nominally public university are, therefore, being required to serve the interests of an American corporation that is a key supplier of weapons to the Israeli military.

While the university is happy to do business with a firm profiting from massacres — such as those in Gaza during the summer — it has displayed a hostile attitude to some of its own students.

Threatened

On 28 September, twelve of its Palestinian students received threatening letters — just before a new academic year began. The students were informed that they may be brought before a disciplinary board because they had organized demonstrations on campus, without having permission to do so from the university authorities.

The Hebrew University has seen a number of demonstrations this year — including protests against attempts to convince Palestinian Christians they should enroll in the Israeli military and rallies in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners undertaking a hunger strike in Israeli jails.

Severe restrictions

Why should students need permission to protest ? Aren’t universities supposed to protect freedom of expression ?

Israeli universities have an “activities charter” regulating such matters as protests, public meetings and the distribution of flyers and posters.

The twelve students at the Hebrew University are accused of violating this charter. Yet it would be extremely difficult — perhaps even impossible — for any student in present-day Israel to respect the charter if he or she wished to protest against Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

The charter places severe restrictions on any activities that have not been organized by the National Union of Israeli Students, a distinctly Zionist organization.

Whenever students are punished for violating the charter, they are almost always Palestinian students. Zionist political parties and organizations are much less likely to be have their activities placed under surveillance by the academic authorities.

It is by no means the first time that Palestinian students at the Hebrew University have been threatened in this way.

In 2012, a group of activists was summoned to appear before the university’s disciplinary board for holding a screening of the film Jenin, Jenin, attended by its director Muhammad Bakri. The students were fined on the grounds that the university considered the movie to be based on “lies and slander.”

Spreading fear

Similar incidents of repression have occurred in other Israeli universities.

The Academic Watch Project, which monitors the discrimination faced by Palestinian students in Israel, has analyzed all political cases heard by the disciplinary board in Haifa University between 2007 and 2012. We found that no Zionist or right-wing Jewish Israeli student was called before the board in that period.

That was despite the way Jewish Israeli students at Haifa University had organized many activities without first being given the green light by the academic authorities.

Tamer Massalha, a lawyer who has represented students called to disciplinary boards, has come to similar conclusions. He has reported that 80 percent of all disciplinary cases at Haifa University have been opened against Palestinian students. Yet Palestinians comprise just 25 percent of all students in that university.

Massalha has argued that the main purpose of disciplinary boards is to create fear among Palestinian students and to dissuade them from getting involved in political activities.

Ever since Israel’s universities were established, Palestinian students enrolled in them have been denied the same rights as Jewish Israelis. Disciplinary boards have been used as a means of control and suppression of Palestinian students.

The threats against the twelve students at the Hebrew University are not in the least surprising. Nor is the determination of the students to continue speaking out.

As the group said in a statement : “We will not be silenced and we will not allow the university to suppress us. We will expose the university for its racism.”

Yara Sa’di is a postgraduate student and activist from Haifa. She has undertaken research for the Academic Watch Project.