Bar-Ilan’s disturbing defence of one of its own

Why would a university stand by Mordechai Kedar after his abhorrent comments about rape as a terror deterrent? asks Neve Gordon

August 7, 2014

In a recent radio interview concerning Israel’s current campaign against Hamas, Mordechai Kedar, a Jewish Israeli scholar of Arabic literature and lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, declared that Israel will be able to deter terror attacks only once Palestinian combatants know that if they are caught “their sister or their mother will be raped”.

“That sounds bad,” Dr Kedar acknowledged.

“[But] I am talking about [what will have an impact on] them, not about what to do and not to do,” Dr Kedar explained, but immediately added: “This is the only thing that will deter a suicide bomber – when he knows that his sister will be raped if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up. That’s it. That is the only thing that will bring him back home, to protect his honour. That’s the culture of the Middle East.”

Dr Kedar is also among the founders and is a former chairman of Israel Academia Monitor, a campus watch group whose expertise is witch-hunts; it monitors Israeli academics who allegedly engage in “anti-Israel activities” and often calls for their dismissal.

Dr Kedar is consistent: he has a morally reprehensible political agenda and does not mince words or shun controversial action to advance his objectives. The important issue here, however, is not so much the views of one particular academic, but rather his university’s response. Let me be clear, I do not think that Bar-Ilan should dismiss him or sanction him, because, despite his abhorrent statements, he was exercising his freedom of speech.

The problem is that Bar-Ilan not only decided to defend him, but the leaders of this academic institution appear to accept and support his worldview. After the radio interview was criticised in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Dr Kedar and Bar-Ilan issued a joint statement in which the university stood staunchly by Dr Kedar, explaining that he “did not call and is not calling to fight terror except by legal and moral means”. The statement added that Dr Kedar “wanted to illustrate that there is no means of deterring suicide bombers, and, using hyperbole, he gave the rape of women as an example. In order to remove all doubt: Dr Kedar’s words do not, God forbid, contain a recommendation to commit such despicable acts. The intention was to describe the culture of death of the terror organizations. Dr Kedar was describing the bitter reality of the Middle East and the inability of a modern and liberal law-abiding country to fight against the terror of suicide bombers.”

Bar-Ilan is the same university that featured in media coverage around the world when Yigal Amir, one of its students, assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The university administration was shocked and unequivocally condemned the horrific murder. However, almost 20 years have passed and, looking back, it now seems that the university did not really comprehend that it had a serious problem.

The problem can be seen clearly when looking at the support that Bar-Ilan provided Ariel University Centre of Samaria, an institution located deep inside the West Bank. This was established in 1982 to fortify Israel’s colonial project in the Palestinian territories, and was established as a regional branch of Bar-Ilan. In 2012, Bar-Ilan’s president withdrew his support from a legal effort by Israel’s universities to prevent the institution being upgraded by the government to full university status.

The thread connecting all these issues is Bar-Ilan’s tacit approval of colonial violence.

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Reader's comments (1)

This is clearly unfair criticism, verging on slander. Dr Kedar and the University both very clearly explained what he meant but for reasons of his own the author completely ignores these explanations. I've listened to Dr Kedar giving lectures, and have read some of his writing, and I discern no hint of anything which might cause someone to think there is a "serious problem" with his thinking. The actions of Israel do not compare to any colonial power I've ever read about. It is actually Palestine that is the colonial project by any reasonable historical assessment. I honestly don't understand how anyone can not see this.

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