Thursday, June 01, 2006

Boycott fear hits course for spies and torturers

The resurgence of the academic boycott campaign against Israeli academic institutions may have had some good effect, notwithstanding our criticism of the British lecturers' union NATFHE's resolution. Coming days before NATFHE merged with the smaller but more prestigious Association of University Teachers(AUT), the resolution failed to specify the way Israeli academic institutions help maintain repressive occupation, and fell into the trap of focussing on individual, rather than institutional responsibility.

Despite this, support may have been boosted by a call for action froma group of Israeli acdemics over a controversial programme at the Hebrew University; and now it seems the boycott call has bounced back to hit the programme, under which the University would help the Israeli security service.

Shin Bet (from the Hebrew initials for "Sherut Bitachon", service of security) operates within Israel and the Occupied Territories, spying on Palestinians and Israeli dissidents, recruiting informers, and interrogating prisoners. It does use torture, and has been known on occasion to take no prisoners. (It has also been known as SHABAK, from Sherut Bitachon Klalit, General Security Service, but perhaps this sounded too much like the Shah's nororious SAVAK).

Anyway, last week the Israeli daily Ha'aretz carried this report:

Last update - 10:28 27/05/2006

Israeli group urges sanctions on BA program for Shin Bet

By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent

An Israeli group is planning to brief the British teachers' association on a new Hebrew University program, approved last week, to grant undergraduate degrees to Shin Bet security services personnel. The Israeli initiative favors imposing sanctions on Israeli organizations that cooperate with theoccupation in the territories.

The British National Association of Teachers in Further and HigherEducation (NATFHE) is to discuss a proposal Monday for an academic boycottof Israel. The program, which will award a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies, was modified after it was first reported in Haaretz, and was lengthened from 16 to 24 months. Sixty percent is to be conducted on campus. The humanities faculty council last week approved the program by a large majority, but it must still be vetted by the Council for Higher Education.

Professor Moshe Zimmerman, a historian who was not present at the meeting, called his experience with such programs "very bitter." He said that in another special program for the Israel Defense Forces command college,students missed one of his classes because they were serving at roadblocks. Zimmerman said at the time he would "prefer that if someone misses my class, it is because he is sitting in jail because he did not want to sit at a roadblock."

The commander of the military college demanded that Zimmerman not continue to teach the course. When his demand was not met, the army pulled out ofthe course and the university offered another instead. "This shows that these are not purely academic programs," Zimmerman said, but that thes ecurity institution can force the hand of the university, and by cooperating with the military, the university loses its academic freedom.

The Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employeesand the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott ofIsrael (PACBI) have called on NATFHE to consider boycotting Israeli academic institutions. In an open letter to NATFHE, the Palestinian professors association and PACBI said the initiative "comes at a time when the international community... is incapable of delivering justice to the Palestinian people," adding,"no Israeli academic body or institution has ever taken a public stand against the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."

© Copyright 2006 Haaretz. All rights reserved

Third Degree

It seems that whatever its faults, the NATFHE resolution, together with Moshe Zimmerman's letter, has had some effect in concentrating the minds of the Hebrew University administration.
This morning I heard from another Moshe, emeritus Professor Moshe Machover, Israeli-born though now living in London.

Dear Friend,

The following item from this morning's English version of Ha'aretz reports the decision of the Hebrew University to reconsider what may aptly be called its special Third Degree course.
This English version is only a partial translation of the report that appears in this morning's Hebrew version:

This Hebrew version makes an explicit connection between the doubts that the Hebrew University has suddenly began to feel about this Third Degree course and the international campaign to boycott Israel's academic institutions. The recent Natfhe boycott resolution is explicitly mentioned.

The moral is that
1. the boycott campaign is already having an effect;
2. but Ha'aretz does not wish its foreign readers to know this.

BTW, Blog comments appended to the Hebrew version mention the fact that the course in question is not the only one that the Hebrew University offers especially to members of the occupation forces. Other Israeli universities, particularly Bar-Ilan, also offer similar courses,

Thu., June 01, 2006
Last update - 07:27 01/06/2006

Shin Bet staffers won't receive special B.A. from Hebrew University
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent

Hebrew University will not offer a special program to Shin Bet personnel that would have allowed the completion of an undergraduate degree in MiddleEast studies in 16 months.
At a meeting of senior university staff on Tuesday, it was decided that the special conditions enabling members of the Shin Bet to take many of their classes at an installation belonging to the security organization were unacceptable. The program came under intense public scrutiny primarily for the special treatment that was being granted to Shin Bet personnel by a respected academic institution.

A compromise to hold 60 percent of the classes on campus and expand the duration of the program from 16 to 24 months did not put an end to the criticism, which also fueled an hour-long debate among the heads of the university during the Tuesday meeting. Central to the criticism was the plan to hold special classes for the ShinBet students, which would not be open to the regular student population. Academic staff have raised concerns in the past that classes limited only to security personnel may result in undue pressure on the lecturers. Other academics, both at the Hebrew University and other institutions,criticized the decision of a university to cooperate with a security organization on moral grounds.
[Here the English translation omits some significant paragraphs. --MM]

The Tuesday meeting did not involve a vote, which still allows the heads of the program to make the necessary changes and seek approval at a later date. However, university and Shin Bet sources said that the opening of the program is no longer relevant.© Copyright 2006 Haaretz. All rights reserved

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