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In July 2008, four Israeli academics announced an initiative to secure the endorsement of senior academics at institutions of higher education in Israel on a petition in favour of academic freedom for Palestinian faculty and students. They indicated that after the signatures were gathered, they intended to seek the support of the Committee of University Presidents and members of the Israeli Academy of Science, and to submit the petition to the ministries of interior, defense, education, science, and foreign affairs. The petition read:
“We, past and present members of academic staff of Israeli universities, express great concern regarding the ongoing deterioration of the system of higher education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We protest against the policy of our government which is causing restrictions of
freedom of movement, study and instruction, and we call upon the government to allow students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas. To leave the situation as it is will cause serious harm to freedom of movement, study and instruction – harm to the foundation of academic freedom, to which we are committed.”
The initiators of the petition reported that out of about 9000 emails sent to Israeli academics, of which around 5000 went to senior faculty and the rest to emeriti and junior faculty at some of the institutions, they received email endorsements from only 407 individuals.
PACBI is neither surprised by the dismal results of this initiative nor indeed by the content of the petition. We note that the petition ignores the basic political context within which the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students is being violated. That context is no other than the illegal, four-decades-old military occupation of Palestinian land, an occupation that has striven consistently to destroy Palestinian society and its institutions, including universities and other educational institutions.
Forty years of occupation – with whose brutal policies many Israeli academics are personally familiar, if not complicit, through reserve duty – do not figure in
the activism of these Israeli academics, do not deserve a note as the only context within which the trampling of Palestinian academic freedom is taking place. A protest effort that fails to even mention the occupation, the root cause of all denial of Palestinian rights and freedoms, academic freedom included, and that is unwilling to condemn the occupation regime, is simply not acceptable.
We realize that the statement was deliberately bland so as to attract the widest possible endorsement. But sadly, the petition shows that Israeli support for Palestinian human rights is close to nil, even in the “safest” and least
“political” of fields: academic freedom. As the background to the petition makes clear, the Israeli academy is not the bastion of dissent it is purported to be by those seeking to delegitimize the call for the academic boycott of Israel. The vast majority of the members of the Israeli academic community is oblivious to the oppression of the Palestinian people – both inside Israel and in the occupied territory – and has never fought to oppose the practices and policies of their state.
In fact, they duly serve in the reserve forces of the occupation army and as such are either perpetrators of or silent witnesses to the daily brutality of the occupation. Furthermore, the institutions in which they pursue their careers are firmly embedded in the system of oppression, and Israeli academics have done little or nothing to challenge the complicity of their institutions in this system.