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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

An open letter to the president of NATFHE

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Opposing the motion to boycott Israeli academics

 

Memorandum to the President of NATFHE

From Maurice Ostroff

May 25, 2006   

 

Sir,

 

NATFHE annual national conference 2006

A point of order

 

 

In terms of SO 12.2, I respectfully submit, on a point of order, that motion 198 submitted to the forthcoming national conference, is ultra vires. It is beyond the power and transcends the authority of the conference in that it not only contravenes NATFHE’s rule 2.4, opposing unfair discrimination; it seriously tarnishes NATFHE’s reputation. It transgresses all standards of fairness, intellectual honesty and academic scholarship expected from a professional association working in higher education. It also leads one to doubt the quality of the education imparted to students by members of NATFHE.

 

The appropriateness of NATFHE’s involvement in political issues in foreign countries is debatable, especially on a superficial level without studying all relevant information, as in this motion. However, if a decision is nevertheless taken to allow such motions to be presented, rule 2.4 prohibits the type of selective discrimination exhibited in motion 198. Indeed, the motion conflicts with plain academic integrity which requires an evenhanded approach in condemning or supporting foreign educational institutions.

 

Motion 198C for example, invites members to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of Israeli educational institutions or individuals that do not publicly dissociate themselves from what the proposers inaccurately describe as apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. By the most elementary academic standards this motion is entirely unworthy of a body, which represents teachers entrusted with imparting objective unbiased knowledge to students, because:

 

1) If this motion is intended to support the Palestinians, it is clearly counterproductive as so clearly stated by President of Palestinian Al-Quds University, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, who wrote ”an international academic boycott of Israel, on pro Palestinian grounds, is self- defeating:..” (AppendixA)

 

2) Singling out Israel while ignoring horrifying human rights violations elsewhere is a blatant contravention of rule 2.4 and of intellectual honesty. The motion would perhaps be academically acceptable if worded along the following lines.

 

“Conference urges that an evenhanded approach be adopted in condemning or supporting foreign educational institutions. It therefore invites members to consider their own responsibility in contacts with all educational institutions or individuals in all countries in which human rights abuses are reported and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies. Such countries include the USA, Chechnya, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

 

3) The allegation of apartheid is baseless (Appendix B) 

 

4) The alleged racial discriminatory practices in Israeli educational are non-existent. Witness the large number of Arab students at Israeli universities. This is what Amir Kniefiss, an Arab student, from Israel, studying at LSE last year had to say.

 

”Haifa is a university in which one of every five students is Arab; in which loud but civilized political debates take place regularly; and one in which nobody was ever denied his/her freedom of expression. In my opinion, it is a hotbed of peace and dialogue that should be studied as a model for coexistence and not the opposite.” (Appendix C) 

 

And Palestinian Ala Fakhory says that he does not feel even hidden racism at the College of Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. (Appendix D) 

 

5) Construction of the security barrier, is a complex issue which involves the balancing of security issues with possible curtailment of some human rights – a dilemma which is under scrutiny in Britain, the USA, Holland, Denmark and other countries as well as in Israel. It is not a subject on which NATFHE members can make intelligent judgments without being provided with credible balanced information. Suffice it to say that Israel is proud of its supreme court, which has on occasions ruled even against the government in regard to positioning the barrier, in favor of human rights at the risk of lower security.

 

Motion 198B is also unacceptable as discriminatory in its present form as follows. “Conference notes the victory of HAMAS in the recent Palestine Authority elections. Conference condemns the hysterical reporting of the result by most of the British news media and the outrageous bias shown by UK Government statements against the outcome of a democratic process”

 

This motion would be academically acceptable if it were balanced to read:

 

“Conference notes the victory of HAMAS in the recent Palestine Authority elections and urges Hamas to remove obstacles to a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict such as the continuing incitement to violence emanating from mosques and PA controlled media and taught in schools from the earliest age, by amending clauses in the Hamas charter such as Article 13 which unambiguously states that peaceful solutions and international conferences contradict its principles and that there is no solution except through Jihad.”

 

I would be grateful if you would kindly bring this letter to the attention of the delegates to the conference and I would appreciate a considered response from you.

 

Sincerely

Maurice Ostroff

 

 

Appendix A: Letter written by Al-Quds University President

Letter written by Dr. Sari Nusseibah, Al-Quds University President Read at the Academic Freedom Conference by Prof. Dajani, Al-Quds University.

 

Dear colleagues:

The free flow of science and information, far more than traditional military methods to preempt conflicts, constitutes in my view a powerful force against war. It is also, far more than the free flow of trade between nations, a powerful tool for equal- opportunity human- development.

 

Applied to the Israeli- Palestinian situation the above hypothesis would imply that, of all possible bridges to burn as a form of "well- intentioned" political pressure, the boycott of academic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians should be excluded or avoided. Indeed, the hypothesis implies that such cooperation should be fostered and expanded.

 

By extension, an international academic boycott of Israel, on pro Palestinian grounds, is self- defeating: it would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended, and Palestinian rights could there for be restored. Instead of burning that bridge the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it, including, foremost, through its own collaborative intervention.

 

Needless to say, no self- respecting individual, academic or otherwise, can be blind or indifferent to the universal human principles of freedom and equality. Academic cooperation must therefore be predicted on these principles, besides serving as a means to bringing their realization about. It is in this spirit that I stand committed to academic cooperation, and against academic boycotts. For those who stand for it on pro- Israeli grounds, and those who stand against it on pro- Palestinian grounds, I urge a plea for a balanced support for the combined future of Israelis and Palestinians, based on the principles of freedom and equality.

 

Sari Nusseibeh/ al- Quds University

 

Appendix B: Israel and apartheid

The parallel which the motion seeks to draw between Israel and apartheid is as unjustified as it is offensive. Repeated by persons who should know better is not only intellectually dishonest; it is a lazy repetition of catch phrases propagated by cynical propagandists. More egregiously it ignores situations where valid parallels can be drawn Israel shows a greater degree of racial tolerance than many other countries, Take Britain for example. While I would be the last to liken Britain to the old South African apartheid regime, facts taken out of context as is so often done when attacking Israel, show a much more convincing resemblance of Britain, rather than Israel, to apartheid. For example, last September, the BBC reported that Trevor Phillips, leader of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned that British society was becoming more divided by race and religion and that the nightmare of fully fledged ghettos could happen in the country. According to the London based Independent Race and Refugee News Network, in 2003-04, there were 52,694 racist incidents and an alarming increase in racially motivated murders as well as a devastatingly high incidence of Black deaths in custody. Sounds very much like apartheid does it not?

 

But any informed logical person realizes that these statistics, quoted out of context, reflect a completely unrealistic picture of Britain, with its laudable history of racial tolerance, universal justice and strenuous efforts to ensure racial equality.

 

Any person interested in making a serious comparison can readily ascertain that in stark contrast to South Africa’s apartheid laws, and Lebanon’s discriminatory laws, Israel's Declaration of Independence specifically ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or gender. Israeli Muslims, Christians, Druse and other minority groups enjoy exactly the same civil and political rights as Jews. They serve in the Knesset and speak freely against the government. By contrast, Israel’s Arab neighbors strictly enforce gender and religious apartheid.

 

One wonders whether the proposers of the motion are aware that one of the countries where apartheid continues to be enforced by law is Lebanon. There, according to an Amnesty International report, Palestinian refugees are barred from certain jobs and the law bars Palestinians from owning real estate and from inheriting property or even registering property that they had already bought.

 

Unfortunately, as in Britain and elsewhere, injustices do occur in Israel. The very fact that human rights organizations operate freely in Israel is a powerful argument against any accusation of apartheid. Israelis are proud of the fact that by contrast with neighboring states, these organizations frequently win arguments even against the state. The litmus test is that in complete contrast to the despised South African laws, which enforced apartheid, the Israel high court upholds the civil rights of all citizens without distinction.

 

Appendix C: Open letter from a student at LSE

Open letter from a student at LSE, written in 2005 against the AUT boycott

 

Dear Friend,

 

My name is Amir Kneifiss and I am an Israeli Druze currently studying towards an MSc. in Governance at the LSE. I am writing as a former student at Haifa University, the institute you decided to boycott a few weeks ago and the place where I spent the best years of my life studying history and politics.

 

Haifa is a university in which one of every five students is Arab; in which loud but civilised political debates take place regularly; and one in which nobody was ever denied his/her freedom of expression. In my opinion, it is a hotbed of peace and dialogue that should be studied as a model for coexistence and not the opposite. Nevertheless, misled by a frustrated lecturer, you decided to boycott this amazing and diverse institute.

 

Israel is much more complicated than a newspaper headline. As with many ethnic or national minorities around the world, there are difficulties in integrating Israeli-Arabs and other minorities into the mainstream society. Much more needs to be done in these aspects. Yet, I am a firm believer that change can be made through engagement in the many facets of Israeli democracy and I reject the false allegations portraying Israel as an apartheid and racist state. Not only it is wrong and deceptive, but it will do little to help us in the Middle East confront the real problems and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

 

The misleading arguments about Haifa University are only one example. More disturbing is the one-sided depiction of Israel, portrayed by some extremists who have never really intended to understand the complexities. Nobody, for instance, mentioned that in Ariel College there are currently 300 Arab students and that only last week, three Israeli-Arab Mayors publicly supported the College for its contribution to reducing inequalities. Yes, the occupied territories should be used to establish a viable Palestinian State. Nevertheless, instead of boycotting Israeli institutions, it is much more helpful to explore the various mechanisms capable of satisfying the interests of both sides (e.g. land swap).

 

An end to the occupation will not come from a blunt boycott, but from pragmatic solutions accommodating both sides ' desires. Only political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians - and not the imposition of sanctions from the outside - will help to create a better future for us all. Therefore, although I am only in my twenties, I believe spreading hatred is the most ineffective way of promoting these goals. We need to bridge the gap, not extend it.

 

If you oppose discrimination and believe in peace, open dialogue and constructive debate, you should see why this boycott must be overturned. It helps none of us and shows one-sided hostility to Israel more than a love of peace.

 

Please do write to me if you are interested in hearing more about my point of view, and please defend dialogue, for the benefit of all of us.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Amir Kniefiss Government Department London School of Economics A.Kneifiss@lse.ac.uk

 

Appendix D: article about a Jewish college on the West Bank

Extracts from an article By Shira Philosof - Haaretz June 22, 2005 about a Jewish college on the West Bank

 

When Ala Fakhory told his parents that he intended to study at the College of Judea & Samaria in Ariel, they were deeply opposed. It was not ideology that caused them to question his decision - it was fear that he would be surrounded by settlers who roam the college armed with pistols. Fakhory, who is one of 250 Arab students who attend the college, insisted. Near the end of his third year of study for a degree in electronic engineering, Fakhory says he experienced no racism on the part of students or faculty. In fact, he says, "Everyone treated me well."

 

No Racism

Tall, slender, 24-year-old Fakhory was born and lives in the Arab community of Issawiyeh in East Jerusalem. Before beginning his studies at Ariel, he completed two years toward his degree in electronic engineering at the Ort College and he has worked for four years in the East Jerusalem Electric Company.

 

Despite that, even Fakhory was pleasantly surprised. "There is undisclosed racism everywhere. I don't even feel that kind of hidden racism here. Until now, I haven't felt that anyone treated me poorly. Not the faculty or the students."

 

In order to lend weight to these statements, Fakhory says that about two weeks after he began his studies, he entered a class expecting to see, "a lecturer with a skullcap and a personal weapon. But the professor was really nice. The first month of study was difficult, but there were professors who helped me until I was integrated. One of them is Eliyahu Farber."

 

Other Arab students also feel comfortable at the college. When Mahmoud Amash, 22, from Jisr al-Zarqa, wants to describe his satisfaction with the college, he says he often stays here on weekends. When asked if he had a problem settling into an academic institution located in the territories, with a majority of Jewish students, he says no. He had Jewish friends, from Binyamina and Hadera, when he was a high school student in the village, he says. Moreover, he has more Jewish friends than Arab friends in the college.

 

Amash is an outgoing, smiling second-year student seeking a degree in criminology. He learned of the college through ads published in the media and lives in the dormitories. In his opinion, one of the reasons Arab students study here is because, "criminology is not taught at every university. It is easier to be accepted here, despite the fact that the courses are difficult. Assistance and tutoring is available, which makes it easier to be integrated."

 

The College is certainly a melting pot for Israel. We have religious students and secular students, and 1,000 new immigrants - Russians, Ethiopians and from a few other countries. We also have the second highest number of Ethiopian students (in total numbers) among all other universities and colleges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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