The Morally Tenuous Position of Hundreds of American University Presidents

In December, less than a month after the American Studies Association adopted a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions because of what the ASA described as Israel’s persistent violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people, its severe restrictions on the academic freedom afforded to the Palestinian people, and, in general, its continued violations of international humanitarian law, more than 250 presidents of American universities issued statements condemning the ASA resolution with some threatening to dissociate their universities with ASA.

These presidents gave very little deference to a more sober and deliberate consideration of the full consequences of their support for Israeli academic institutions, nor for the Israeli institutions’ role in the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people. They gave very little thought to the Palestinian people, like so many western political leaders of the last century.

Like so many western policy makers of the last century, they ignored the Palestinian people all together.

These university presidents gave scant attention to the hardships imposed by the military occupation of the Palestinians in trying to educate themselves and their children.

These university presidents might have considered Israel’s 2009 war on Gaza in which Israel destroyed or damaged 29 educational institutions in that narrow strip of land including the complete destruction of the science unit at the University of Gaza, the destruction of the agricultural building at the University of Al-Azhar, and also the destruction of UN-built and supported schools, as well as an American built and funded school.

All in all, during Israel’s 2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli military destroyed or damaged just short of 50,000 homes leaving 100,000 people homeless, while killing 1400 people of Gaza who, like 1.7 million others, were trapped inside a 28 by 6 mile area bounded by an electrified fence on the east, north, and south, and a naval blockade from the west.

In June of 2009, in the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, former President Jimmy Carter visited the Gaza Strip and spoke briefly describing the destruction of the American school with Israeli and American bombs. The video also show him standing on the jamb of his SUV door and taking pictures of the rubble. If one looks closely, in the video, one can see part of the name of the school and the word “American” still visible in the rubble.

I have heard the former president say that he had been invited by some faculty persons to speak at several American universities only to be told by their presidents that it would not be a good idea, or that it was not a good time. Carter declined to name the schools.

The Protection of civilians in time of war has been a central part of international law since the 1899 Hague Convention, the first international convention restraining state action on the matters of the conduct of warfare and has been reaffirmed since in international law. In fact, many municipal structures were destroyed by Israel during the 2008-9 winter assault on Gaza, even the prison in Gaza city, as well as municipal police installations.

A person living in the Gaza Strip, with whom I am in email contact, tells me that he estimates having heard 1000 sonic booms in the past year. This averages to about 3 a day. Supersonic aircraft induced sonic booms are extremely loud and disruptive. Gaza children have shown high incidences of bedwetting, nightmares and other signs of trauma according to psychologists who have worked with these children.

A 2013 report by the United Nations Trade and Development on the Palestinian economy in East Jerusalem described Israeli policies that have intentionally retarded the growth of the Palestinian economy while observing that

… Palestinians are made to pay high municipal taxes in return for poor services and disproportionately low public expenditures in East Jerusalem. This has been particularly evident with respect to education, characterized by a shortage of classrooms, a high overall dropout rate of 13 percent among Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem, and a general neglect of the Arab school system in comparison to their Jewish Counterparts literally metres away in West Jerusalem.1

Some History

By the end of November of 1947, despite 50 years of land purchases, Jewish ownership of the land of Palestine totaled no more than 6%. By the end of the year 1948, the Israeli forces had occupied 78% of mandate Palestine. 531 Arab villages and 11 urban neighborhoods were either destroyed or evacuated of its Arab populations generating a wave of from 750,000 to 800,000 Palestinians refugees. Most of the Palestinians not externally displaced were internally displaced and subsequently subject to military law and rule until 1966. This ethnic cleansing was carried out in accordance with a fairly detailed plan, Plan D, or Dalet, distributed by David Ben Gurion to his military commanders in March of 1948, two months before the introduction of any regular soldiers of a surrounding Arab state, which was May 15. By that date about half of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees had been generated.

The Palestinian people lost everything only to find refuge in tent refugee cities set up by the United Nations; their houses, their fields and orchards, their businesses, their banks were looted or stolen. The university presidents might be especially interested to know that the Jewish forces looted at least 70,000 books from private Palestinian’s libraries and public libraries.2

The looting of Palestinian books and records and archives did not end in 1948. During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the occupation of the Arab capital of Beirut, the Israeli army, under Ariel Sharon, looted books, records, and archives of the Palestinian Research Center in Beirut. On Monday, September 20, 1982, about 36 hours after the cessation of the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut,

Israeli soldiers continued to plunder the well-equipped library of the Palestinian Research Center of the PLO in West Beirut. All materials, book and document were loaded indiscriminately aboard trucks chartered for this task. A jeep and a tank covered this operation.3

Sharon was not finished. In 2002, he was behind the invasion of all the cities of the West Bank, except Jericho, destroying the buildings that housed the Palestinian Authority, and partially destroying the Muqata, headquarters of Yasser Arafat, and leaving him under siege where he was to spend the rest of his life. Sharon’s forces closed down Orient House in East Jerusalem looted the records and archives housed there by the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli academic institutions which the university presidents were so quick to defend are neither independent of the occupation of Palestinian lands nor of the militarization of that society. According to Dr Ilan Pappe in his very recent book, The Idea of Israel, (p 149):

Tel Aviv University alone prides itself over the fact that the Defense ministry is funding 55 percent of its research projects and that DARPA, The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency in the US Defense Department, is funding nine more. All the universities offer special study programs for the defense establishment.

Nor does the Israeli school system spare their student the state propaganda of the general type one finds in the histories of the fascists regimes of pre-World War II Italy and Germany.

Dr Pappe continues that with the beginning of the new millennium:

the Ministry of Education was under the firm control of the Lukud and oversaw the ousting of all textbooks that were suspected of being even slightly influenced by post-Zionist scholarship. …

Under the Lukud ministries of education, in cooperation with a cohort of academics, many of whom hailed from the national religious Bar-Ilan University and its satellite, Ariel University, in the occupied West Bank, the neo-Zionist interpretation of the idea of Israel constituted the ideological infrastructure for the official educational system. The neo-Zionists produced several educational kits (textbooks, curricula, and so on) which would have the power to impact the next generation of Jews in Israel. These kits could produce only one type of graduate: racist, insular, and extremely ethnocentric. The message that came through clearly, as found in research conducted by Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and , more recently, by Nurit Peled-Elhanan of Hebrew University, is to fear the Other inside and around you – the Other being the Arab world around Israel, the Palestinian neighborhoods, the Palestine citizens inside Israel, and non-Jewish immigrants. A good example of that sort of thing is the school textbook titled, Those were the years – Israel’s Jubilee, which covers the state’s chronicles since its foundation since 1948. The Palestinians hardly figure in the book – they are not mentioned with regard to the 1948 war, or as citizens of Israel under a military regime up to 1966, or as an occupied population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967. The presence of Palestinian refugees is something the readers will not know about. They will only become aware of the existence of Palestinian terrorism, which emerged sometime in the 1960’s for unknown reasons.

… In 1998 the Ministry of Education announced a new master plan devoted to linking students more closely with the army. The basic idea was to follow children from kindergarten through high school graduation so as to ensure that they would be well prepared for ‘military environment and values’ and that they would ‘be able to cope with situations of pressure and developing leadership skills on a battlefield’. The level of physical fitness required by the army would be a precondition for matriculating and graduation, and an obligatory, integral part of the future educational system would be participation in army maneuvers and military indoctrination. This was to be complemented by enriched lessons on Zionism and Eretz Israel studies. In the final three years of high school, the scheme aimed at ‘increasing the motivation and preparedness for the IDF. During the initial year there would be a focus on ‘the individual’s commitment to his or her homeland’, and in the following two years, on ‘actual participation in military life’. In a way, this had always been done at schools, but always as a marginal part of school life; moreover, it features were formulated by more mainstream Zionists. Now the individual pupil would learn the history of the land according to the neo-Zionist interpretation – an education bound to shape his or her vision of the future.4

The militarization and the establishment of an indoctrination regime within the state education system is reminiscent of the Italian and German regimes of pre-World War II. In fact, such a superpatriotism and a supernationalism are essential characteristics of fascism. The latter concept has a lengthy history, but probably reached its pinnacle in Italy and Germany under Mussolini and Hitler.

On January 22, the Israeli Defense forces invaded the Abu Dis campus of Al Quds University, on the eastern slope of the Jerusalem hills, fired tear gas into the campus along with rubber bullets and injured about 100 students or faculty who suffered from either tear gas inhalation of from being hit with rubber bullets.
I wonder what the 250 university presidents would think if their campuses were invaded by an occupation army troops injuring a hundred students and faculty.

The Palestinian people are vulnerable people, an unwanted people, in the way of an expansionist Jewish state which is a European colony which established itself in the Middle East in the early half of the 20th century with the intention of dispersing the Palestinian people from Palestine.

The following exchange between Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann expresses the general attitude:

… took me to Princeton to seek Professor Einstein’s views on the incident. Dr Einstein told me that, strangely enough, he had never been a Zionist and had never favored the creation of the State of Israel. Also, he told me of a significant conversation with Weizmann. Einstein had asked him: “What about the Arabs if Palestine were given to the Jews?” and Weizmann said: “What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence.”5

Christian Zionist Lord Shaftsbury had previously told Weizmann that “there were only Negroes living in Palestine and they were of no importance.”6

The Zionist movement has pretended throughout its existence that the Palestinian people, though they were sometimes recognized as occupants of the land of Palestine, did not really exist in any substantial sense. Neither were they regarded as a distinct people; rather they were part of an amorphous, undifferentiated Arab sea of humanity.

Palestinians have been the victims of numerous intermittent massacres by Jewish forces from 1948 onward; the Sabra and Shatila massacre of two to three thousand defenseless Palestinians, mostly women and children, in the refugee camps of Beirut in 1982 was the most notorious, but by no means the only one. The Deir Yassin massacre of 1948 lives on in infamy, but was hardly the largest in terms of numbers killed.

Every year the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, an Israeli university near Tel Aviv publishes a report on the state of the nation based on presentations given to them by the leading politicians, generals, and strategists and is commissioned by successive Israeli governments. Each year the report contains a recommendation for the transfer of Palestinians from Israel if the Palestinian minority should ever, due to a higher birth rate, double their percentage of the population from just over 20% to 40%.

According to the Jerusalem Post, in November of 1989, Mr. Netanyahu, then Deputy Foreign Minister, told an audience at Bar Ilan University, that the government had failed to exploit internationally favorable situations, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre in June of 1989 when world attention and the media were focused on China, to carry out ‘large scale’ expulsions at a time when ‘the danger would have been relatively small.’ Later, when Netanyahu denied making these statements, the Jerusalem Post produced a tape recording of this speech. A war with Iran would then have a double attraction for Netanyahu and his coalition.

Israelis generally regard the Palestinian minority in Israel as a fifth column and a threat to the Jewish nature of the state.

The vulnerability and precariousness of the Palestinian people was not a consideration for the 250 university presidents. They do not understand that those who came from Europe to settle in Palestine, form their own state, and destroy the Palestinian people, as a people, were the victimizers — not the victims.

  1. See www.acri.org.il/en/2013/09/02/ej-ed-report-13. []
  2. This is link to a very well done and interesting documentary on the looting of Palestinian owned books, which I hope the reader will take time to view. []
  3. Amnon Kapeliouk, Sabra and Shatila, p 73. []
  4. Ilan Pappe, The Idea of Israel, p 269. []
  5. Lilienthal, What Price Israel? []
  6. Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism. []

William James Martin writes frequently on the Middle East. He can be reached at wjm20@caa.columbia.edu. Read other articles by William.