Sunday, April 3, 2011

Antisemitic call for boycott of Hebrew University by McGill University student newspaper

I just came across an editorial in the student newspaper of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, calling for the university to cut its ties with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was just published, on March 28, 2011. The editorial finds problematic a new partnership with Hebrew University in several areas: epigenetics, human rights, international business, and food safety and water management.

How could these areas of cooperation possibly be problematic, especially human rights? According to the editorial, the problem is that the program doesn't mention the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement there, and the head of the Minerva Center for Human Rights at Hebrew University wrote an article in support of the security wall.

The Minerva Center is hosted at the law faculty of the Hebrew University, but their website hasn't been developed yet. It does, however, list two upcoming programs in November of 2011. The first conference, to be held on November 13-15, 2011 is on the "Potential Role of Transitional Justice in Active Conflicts." The second one, to be held on November 27-29, 2011 is a conference on "New Technologies, Old Law: Applying International Humanitarian Law in a New Technological Age." It is cosponsored with the International Committee of the Red Cross Delegation in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and one member of the conference academic committee is Mr. Charles Shamas, of the Mattin Group, Ramallah. Apparently the ICRC has decided that it's worth engaging with the human rights center at the Hebrew University, despite the fact that Israel still occupies the West Bank. Both conferences sound really interesting and the person who wrote the Daily McGill editorial could benefit from going to both of them to learn what academic research on human rights really consists of.

The editorial also condemns the Hebrew University because it has "expanded on occupied land in East Jerusalem and provided scholarships for those who participated in Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada in 2002." Well, the first Hebrew University campus, on Mt. Scopus, existed before the establishment of Israel as a state. The cornerstone was laid on 1918, and the university campus was opened on 1925. At that time there was no "East Jerusalem" in the sense that people use the term today. All of the area of Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine was administered by the British Empire for the mandate of Palestine. During the 1948 war, the Mt. Scopus campus was cut off from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem and remained so until 1967. The Hebrew University had to build a new campus at Givat Ram in the center of what became West Jerusalem, near the Knesset and other government buildings. After 1967, the university returned to the Mt. Scopus campus and scores of new buildings were erected.

As for providing scholarships for those who fought in Defensive Shield against the Second Intifada - the Daily McGill editorial ignores why Israel fought Defensive Shield in the first place. This was the Israeli campaign to retake the cities of the West Bank, occasioned by the murderous rampage of suicide bombers in Israeli cities at the height of the Second Intifada. It began on March 29, 2002, after the Passover massacre in Netanya on March 27.

According to the Wikipedia article on Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, there were 5 bombings in 2000 (all after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September, 2000), 41 in 2001, 46 in 2002 (including the Passover massacre in Netanya on March 27, which killed 30 people, and the massacre of 9 people at the Hebrew University itself on July 31, 2002 - I knew one of the victims, Ben Blutstein), 24 bombings in 2003, 19 bombings in 2004, 9 bombings in 2005, 3 bombings in 2006, 1 in 2007, and 2 in 2008. In 2002, the worst year, 237 were killed in suicide bombings, and in 2003, 146 were killed.

The editorial also says that the presence of an IDF base on the Givat Ram campus is an additional reason to boycott Hebrew University. I have never heard this before and have trouble believing it is true. I studied at the Hebrew University's Rothberg School in the 1987-1989 academic years, had a Fulbright Fellowship at the Hebrew University in the 1992-1993 academic year, and held a Lady Davis fellowship in the 1998-1999 academic year. Throughout the 2000s, I have visited Israel almost every year and have done research at the National Library, which is housed at the Givat Ram campus. In all that time, no one has ever mentioned to me the existence of an army base on the campus. I have many Israeli friends who have served in the IDF or whose children have done so, and none have mentioned this supposed base.

In my opinion, this call to break ties with the Hebrew University is also antisemitic, in effect if not in intent. The Hebrew University is one of the world's centers of Jewish Studies. Every four years the World Congress of Jewish Studies is held at the Mt. Scopus campus. Jewish Studies scholars at McGill (and other colleges and universities around the world) cooperate with members of the various faculties of the Hebrew University on a constant basis. Calls for colleges and universities to break ties with Israeli universities are always antisemitic, because they attack this crucial academic link among Jewish Studies scholars.

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