Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Et tu, Hebrew U?

QED pointed this out, and it deserves closer attention.

Et tu, Hebrew U?
Israel can't even get a fair hearing at the country's flagship university

Matt Lebovic

“What is a Jewish state, anyway?” my professor asked the class last week. “Is it like a Jewish chair? I mean, I know what a Jewish person is, but how can a state be Jewish?”

A few minutes later, the same professor compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, calling it a “fake democracy.” Not for the first time at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, I squirmed in my chair. Was this a course on Israeli politics, or a Hamas press conference?

David and Goliath

The following day, another professor of mine informed students that Israel has no reason to make its case in the international arena. “You look at the occupied territories and Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David,” the professor said. “Why bother trying to explain anything Israel does if this is all people see?” The rhetorical question was followed by silence from the class.

My classmates, both Jewish and non-Jewish, come to Jerusalem from Argentina, Taiwan, and a score of countries in between. Prior to studies in Israel, many of them received information about Israel from biased CNN coverage and anti-Israel divestment and boycott movements back home. Some classmates’ questions early in the year shed light on their impressions of Israel.

“Did the Jews murder Arabs at Deir Yassin because they were hungry for blood, or was there an actual reason?” a young German woman asked the professor in my friend’s Palestine 1948 class. “Since a Jew murdered Rabin, we can say Jews don’t really want peace, right?” asked a young man from Azerbaijan during an introductory class on Israeli history.

Balance needed

It’s clear that some of my classmates would benefit from a balanced, multi-sided examination of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Many will leave Jerusalem to become journalists, diplomats and teachers around the world. Unfortunately, some will depart with the words of professors ringing in their ears: “Israel is a fake democracy. Israel is an apartheid state. Israel has no excuse for its actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.”

Not all professors at my school ignore historical and political context for Palestinian suffering and Israeli actions like the security fence. Some have impressed me and other “pro-Israel” classmates with their ability to distill the conflict’s complexities and foster reasonable discussion of the issues.

Others, however, let their political beliefs determine classroom discourse, such as one professor’s labeling the Israeli government a “colonialist regime” and another referring to an outspoken, kippah-clad student as “Lieberman.”

Obviously, professors are entitled to their opinions, and to elucidate them in class; however, there is a line between political commentary and “Israel-bashing,” as one classmate described some professors’ behavior.

Special responsibility

Labeling Israel an aggressive “Goliath” victimizing the helpless Palestinian “David” distorts the conflict’s true scope – that of a tiny island of Jewish sovereignty surrounded by more than a few genocidal extremists. Like every democracy on Earth, Israel is flawed. Does this mean the Jewish state has no more intrinsic value than a “Jewish chair,” as my professor implied?

I respect the academic freedom and vigorous discourse abundant at my school; however, the international division of Israel’s flagship university bears a special responsibility to students and supporters. If Israel cannot receive a fair hearing in the hallowed halls of Mt. Scopus, where can it?


It's been over a decade since a Bir Zeit Study was published, showing that there was no planned massacre at Deir Yassin (and no more civilian casualties than usual in this kind of warfare). (Just as there was no IDF shell that landed on Gaza beach last Saturday.) I thought my colleagues were supposed to tell the truth. Silly me.

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