Subject: A Middle East Update

by Avraham Oz

17 May 2005

Dear friends,

First, a warning, derived from TV news reports I watched with the years: those with weak stomachs, please refrain from reading this update.

What would you say if in a university, say, in New York, would hold an academic conference called "The Demographic Problem in New York", and, perusing the list of presentations you will realize that the "problem" dealt with refers exclusively to the scary proliferation of Jews in New York?

Unimaginable, right?

Well, please note the date of this update. In my (currently boycotted by the AUT) university, a conference was held today, entitled "The Demographic Problem and the Demographic Policy of Israel," organized by the Herzl Institute for the Study of Zionism, The Reuven Hecht Estate, and the Chair for Geo-Strategy. In my update from April 12th, I have provided some links as to the identity of the carefully selective list of speakers in that conference:

Professor Yoav Gelber, Head of the Herzl Institute, University of Haifa
(Please look up the following: )

Professor Arnon Sofer
(Please look up the following: )

Mr Harry Zesler, representative of the Hecht Estate,
(Please look up the following: )

Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, Rector, University of Haifa
(Please look up the following: )

General (res.) Uzi Dayan, Head of the Zionist Council, initiator of the "Apartheid Wall"
(Please look up the following: )

General (res.) Herzl Gedge, Head of the Population Administration, Ministry of the Interior:
Please look up the following: )

Dr Yitzhak Ravid
(Please look up the following: )

Professor Sergio della Pergola, Head of Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Please look up the following: ws.asp )

Dr Yuval Steinitz, Head of Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee (Likud), one of Likud MKs who opposed Sharon's "disengagement" plan.
(Please look up the following: )

Needless to say, no speaker who might express a contrary view.

Needless to say, no Arab speaker: after all, are the patients taking part in medical conferences? Read again the title of the conference: they are "the problem!" When a reporter of an Israeli TV news channel reported the event (which developed into a major scandal, as you will read below), interviewed on the spot my colleague Professor Arnon Sofer, the chief organizer of the conference, what would he do to a Bedouine who has ten children, he answered on record, facing the camera: "If it were up to me, I would have arrested him, for he is a criminal." He did not refer to an ultra-religious Jew, who in many cases is bound to have a similar number of children, or sometimes more. After they are all Jewish, and thus, do not constitute "a problem."

Since I try to set some limits to the degree of stomach convulsion my job description at the University of Haifa obliges me to contract, I did not volunteer to show up on campus on a day where my attendance is not required for performing my teaching duties. But several of my friends, colleagues and students, went there, to protest. The event is described below, in an Ha'aretz report, and a more detailed account provided by my colleague Dr Ilan Pappe of the despicable event, which represents the way my university interprets academic freedom. Yes, I said my university, not a few right wing extremists who happen to be employed or invited by the university. The guest of honour at the conference was the Rector of the University, Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, who thought it wise to confer a prestigious prize under the auspices of that conference. This, then, is not a marginal conference tolerated by the university in the name of academic freedom: the well advertised attendance of the highest academic figure of the university (no matter who occupies that capacity at this time) voids any future claim by the university (when their PR consultants will advise them to do so) that it had no part in organizing it.

But before you move to the reports, a few words about the boycott. Some of you would say all this justifies it even further. Two major pretexts advanced by the initiators and supporters of the move were that it may prove effective: perhaps change some minds in Israel, and definitely make noise to bring the Palestinian issue to the forefront. Now, almost a month since it was launched, as an experimental balloon (and before it may well be retracted next week), let's account for its effectiveness according to those parameters: Indeed the boycott decision made a lot of noise in my university, as well as in Israel and the world. During this month, some atrocities were made by the Israeli security forces, a Palestinian teenager shot by the security forces died in a Palestinian ambulance rushing him to hospital when the ambulance was detained for 15 critical minutes by an IDF watch barrier; Injuring demonstrators against the construction of the evil wall; Allegations of anti-semitism were flaunted to each direction.; Pappe was attacked by the Ministress of Education at her speech at the ceremony awarding the Israel prize to scientists, academics and artists; The Israeli cabinet voted 13-7 to confer university status on Judea and Samaria College in the West Bank settlement Ariel (a political move, since the Ariel College is rated one of the lowest ranking in quality among the Israeli colleges, and no academic criterion justifies such a promotion).

My university's administration had a lively activity during these weeks: do you think that following the boycott they have reconsidered the refusal to put signs in Arabic, in addition to Hebrew and English, on campus? to employ some Arab students in the library or elsewhere at the university? Reconsider the closure of the University theatre closed for mounting plays in Arabic? Reconsider forbidding a Christmas tree installed in Christmas a the university's main building, the same place were a Jewish Menora was put during Hannuka? Did they raise a voice of protest against the incessant undermining by the Israeli security forces of Palestinian higher education in the Occupied Territories? No, none of these. Instead, they were busy defaming Ilan Pappe; spread officially (via the university's official spokesperson, a misleading account of the disqualifying, by an alleged anonymous committee, of Teddy Katz's formerly cum-laude-approved MA thesis; hired a British lawyer to send a letter to the AUT threatening them that if the boycott was not revoked, the university will file a libel suit at a British court; and passing in the Senate a regulation empowering the University use the Appointments and Promotions committee (headed by the Rector) to appoint adjunct lecturers, suggested by members of faculty and endorsed by the Deans, as a declarative statement of support (a colleague of mine suggested parodically Sue Blackwell, the initiator of the boycott, as such an adjunct, and Sue, with a good sense of humour, wrote she would accept the offer once the boycott was revoked, but expressed her doubts whether the Israeli authorities will let her into Israel, or deny her entry, as it did to a group of women having come last week from the UK to support the Palestinians on the West Bank).

In short, the boycott indeed made noise, but not about the Palestinian issue, but... about the boycott. I would advise our International colleagues to learn this lesson and reconsider their decision: if you wish to put pressure on Israel, do it where it hurts, not where it serves just to enhance the feeling of persecution by most Israelis - including those who oppose the occupation. Protest against the persons directly asking for reproach. Or, better still, do something positive about helping and supporting the Palestinians in every way possible.

For better days,

Professor Avraham Oz
Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature,
University of Haifa
2105 Eshkol Tower, Mount Carmel, 31905 Haifa, Israel

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It was last updated on 20th May 2005.