In 2010, Prof. Alan Dershowitz delivered the keynote address at the Board of Governors convention at Tel Aviv University. He mentioned the case of two Israeli academics from TAU, Prof. Rachel Giora from the linguistics department and Dr. Anat Matar from the philosophy department, to argue that Israeli academic freedom is too excessive. By their own account, Giora's and Matar's activism goes back decades and ranges from involvement with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to encouraging draft resistance.
As Giora described in her own words, "The major role of the Israeli BDS movement has been to support international BDS calls against Israel and legitimize them both as clearly not antisemitic, as not working against Israelis but against Israeli governmental policies, and as supporting a legitimate nonviolent means by which Palestinian civil society can reclaim and re-own its people's rights and freedoms. Alongside solidarity with the Palestinians, the driving force behind the Israeli BDS movement has been the realization that the criminal occupation and repression of the Palestinian people, as practiced by Israeli governments, will not be redressed without significant international pressure."
Giora recalled her first boycott support action she initiated with the late TAU linguist Prof. Tanya Reinhart, in April 2001. They wrote: "we call on the world community to organize and boycott Israeli industrial and agricultural exports and goods, as well as leisure tourism, in the hope that it will have the same positive result that the boycott of South Africa had on Apartheid. This boycott should remain in force as long as Israel controls any part of the territories it occupied in 1967. Those who squash the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians must be made to feel the consequences of their own bitter medicine. We urge every recipient of this appeal, irrespective of origin and nationality, to: 1. Start practicing the boycott on a personal level immediately, and make sure that the steps taken are known in the community (for example: tell your shopkeeper why you will not buy Israeli products; avoid leisure travel to Israel)..."
Of late, Matar and Giora have been involved in anti-Israel events.
Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and justice minister, spoke at Duke University on October 23, 2019. She was invited by DIPAC - the Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee; Duke University Middle East Studies Center; Duke Political Science, and the American Grand Strategy program (AGS). Livni's talk was titled "Israel, the US & the Middle East: Threats, Challenges & Opportunities."
To shield itself from charges of antisemitism and bias, the Students for Justice in Palestine at Duke, like many other pro-Palestinian activists, like to collaborate with radical Israeli academics. On this occasion, it solicited the signature of Giora on its petition. This is also not first time Giora supported attacks against Livni.
Duke is a hotbed of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activities. In 2012, Duke SJP publicized events for Israeli Apartheid Week with posters depicting an old Jewish woman lifting a miniature Palestinian soldier. The woman was of gargantuan proportions, which invoked old Jewish stereotypes. These images were quite unsettling. The poster was described as distasteful and antisemitic. Such posters never should have seen the light of day.
In 2017, Joyce Dalsheim, the author of Unsettling Gaza: Secular Liberalism, Radical Religion, and The Israeli Settlement Project, gave a talk on "The Anthropologist and the Settler: Updates From the Field in Israel/Palestine" Also in 2017, Helen Yanovsky, an Israeli filmmaker, discussed the "Human Rights on Camera in the Palestinian West Bank," to the NGO B'Tselem. Yanovosky has been a core member of the B'Tselem video project and discussed "the history of the project and the importance of cameras and film-making to Palestinians living under occupation." Critics, however, accuse the organization of selective presentation of the complex realities of life in the West Bank, and, in some cases, of fabricating narratives which have no relation to reality.
In 2018, a swastika was found painted on top of a mural on the Duke campus.
Such antisemitic and one-sided presentations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should come as no surprise. In September, the US Department of Education accused Duke and the University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies, of making inappropriate use of Title VI, a federal program that funds international studies and foreign-language programs at universities. The Department of Education listed classes and activities that are way out of the mandate of the program that was envisioned as a training platform for diplomats and foreign-policy specialists planning to serve in the Middle East. Ironically, Middle East programs across the United States have also provided employment opportunities for scholars, many from Arab countries, who use it to promote anti-Israeli propaganda dressed up as academic research. Surveys of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the largest professional organization of Middle East professors, have indicated that the field is top heavy with experts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the detriment of much needed review of other subjects.
Middle East programs have also attracted would-be pro-Palestinian activists.
Duke has large and vocal chapters of SJP, Students against Israeli Apartheid and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. Among the many Facebook activities of the groups, several stand out as crossing the border between legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism. For instance, SJP screen the documentary, The Lobby, which alleges Jews control American foreign policy. To top all this, SJP lambasted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for killing Palestinians. "Don't forget the victims of Israel and their AIPAC collaborators," they wrote.
Equally unsurprising, SJP member Lama Hantash took the lead in attacking Livni's presence on the campus. Hantash, a Duke senior and the treasurer of the SJP branch, drafted an article titled, "Don't bring an accused war criminal to campus" and a petition, "Can't Learn about Justice from a War Criminal." For Hantash, Livni is "wholly unqualified to serve in an educational capacity at any institution which values diplomacy over war crimes and peace over apartheid." Because as foreign minister and a member of the security cabinet, Livni "played a key role in the decisions made before and during the three-week offensive known as Operation Cast Lead". According to Hantash, Livni is "not simply an ethno-supremacist pundit endorsing Zionist settler-colonialism... rather, she is an unapologetic accused war criminal with blood on her hands. Hosting her for a lecture minimizes the lives and deaths of her victims while encouraging future reproductions of her crimes." Hantash urged "members of the Duke community, the academic community and the public stand in solidarity with the Palestinian victims of Israeli war crimes and demand the cancellation of Livni's speech by signing our petition and lending your voice to the victims that Livni so eagerly and cruelly silenced." Hantash did not mention to make Israeli operations difficult, Hamas is deeply embedded with the local population.
As expected, Livni's talk was interrupted by some two-dozen protesters. One student began to speak loudly, "I'm sorry, but the 2008 Israel-Palestine War? That was a massacre." More students voiced their opinions and began reading names of people killed by Israeli forces while holding up their pictures. After three minutes the students filed out while shouting "shame" and "you don't belong here" at Livni.
Likewise, Giora's colleague and friend has also been very active. Matar, TAU senior lecturer emerita, has more time than ever to engage in political activism. As noted, she is a veteran radical activist who spent most of her academic career engaging in radical causes which left her little time to engage in research in the field for which she was hired. So much so, that she was never promoted beyond the rank of senior lecturer. She, along with a number of radical scholars at TAU, has her political activism was supported by the Israeli taxpayer. Among others, she co-edited the book Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, in a field she has no expertise.
These days, she is also involved with Academia for Equality (A4E), which she co-founded, a group "dedicated to advancing equality and democratization of Israeli academia and society." In 2017, a delegation from A4E traveled to Istanbul to support Turkish academics imprisoned by the authorities for voicing political opinions. As well known, Turkey jailed thousands of academics, journalists and civil servants for criticizing President Recep Erdogan and his brutal treatment of Kurds and dissenters. A4E wrote, "in the summer of 2015, following the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Turkey launched a brutal attack against the Kurds, which included the bombing of entire cities identified with the PKK, as well as the raping and massacring of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their hometowns."
A4E used their visit to compare Israel to Turkey, stating "in Israel, too, we have been experiencing more and more violations of the freedom of speech and open academic inquiry in recent years: conferences and lectures have been canceled due to party pressures; faculty members have faced threats after making statements that challenge the status quo; and, of course, the formulation of the 'code of ethics' has aimed to ban academics from voicing political opinions on, or showing support for, the academic boycott of Israel."
At a June 2018 conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Matar and her team introduced the so-called "complicit academy" database. That is, documenting Israeli "academic institutions' repression of dissent", as well as "institutionalized racism against Palestinian students and faculty". It also registered "collusion with the settlement project", and "military research and development". It also looked at "hasbara operations abroad". The database also included tracking "repression and resistance in the Palestinian academy, and international academic institutions' collaboration with and critique of their Israeli peers."
In a new open letter Matar recently published, she wrote, "we would like to extend an open invitation to colleagues from Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora, and from around the world to get in touch with us and consider us as potential hosts for talks and lectures." Matar promises that since Academia for Equality is not affiliated with an individual institution it is able to host academics "who wish not to violate BDS guidelines."
The activities of the Academia for Equality in general and Matar's position in particular are a breathtaking exercise in double standards. Israel has never attested Israeli students or faculty for voicing opposition to official policies. If Matar lived in Turkey she would undoubtedly be in jail. In Israel, as noted, she received a salary for essentially full-time political activism.
Palestinian academics and students are not so lucky. The Palestinian Authority arrests students suspected of protesting the PA, particularly if they challenge the dominant Fatah position. According to reports, since the beginning of the current academic year, the PA has arrested 12 students and then released them. The student-run Facebook group The Voice of Palestinian Students, has documented some five additional arrests by the PA forces in October. The PA has not held any general election since 2005, which means the Palestinian people are not participating in the democratic process.
For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip it is even harsher. Hamas, rulers of the Gaza Strip, have kept the population under a brutal political dictatorship. According to Human Rights Watch, imprisonment and death sentences are routinely used against all those who are perceived to be enemies of the authorities. Democracy does not exist and the rare protest is met with deadly force.
If Matar, Giora or Academia for Equality were really interested in democracy and human rights, as they claim, they could bring the poor record of the PA and Hamas to public knowledge. However, this is not likely to happen because the group is dedicated to the proposition "the Palestinians cannot do anything wrong and the Israelis cannot do anything right." The scurrilous comparison between Israel and Turkey in their treatment or academics is just one more step in this direction.
Matar's latest book in Hebrew is No Moral Ground: On the Poverty of Ethics. For her, morality is Left-wing. Her main concern now is the "ongoing deterioration into the abyss" on the political level, might lead to the end of the Left.
But Matar, Giora and their comrades on the radical-Left are, in fact, promoting dichotomies. The Palestinian national struggle is no way near the philosophy espoused by the Left. And this is the radical-Left's moral bankruptcy.
Dr. Dana Barnett is the director of Israel Academia Monitor which reports on BDS, the delegitimization of Israel, and the abuse of academic norms for political purposes.