Academic repression in Israel ‘on steroids’ as Gaza war rages

Experience of Palestinian academics living in Israel like ‘being in the belly of the beast’ since 7 October, Brismes event hears

June 7, 2024
Al-Walaja, Occupied Palestinian Territories - August 27, 2011 A Palestinian girl confronts Israeli soldiers in a protest against the encirclement of the West Bank town of Al-Walaja by the Israeli separation barrier.
Source: iStock/rrodrickbeiler

The repression that pro-Palestinian academics and students in Israel have faced during the war is like “being in the belly of the beast”, according to scholars.

Since 7 October, the crackdown on those critical of the Israeli state, including in its universities, has risen at an “alarming state”, according to Nadia Abu El-Haj, professor of anthropology at Columbia University.

“The entanglement of Israeli institutions of higher education with the state project is not new,” Professor El-Haj told an event organised by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (Brismes).

“Nevertheless, the extent and character of that collaboration, and its related increase in repression, is on steroids today.”

Scholars have expressed concern about the “assault” on academic freedom taking place in Israel, with many academics and students targeted for expressing pro-Palestinian views. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a leading Palestinian feminist scholar, was arrested and detained by Israeli police in April after signing a petition that described Israel’s assault on Gaza as genocide.

Khaled Furani, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University, referred to the experience of Palestinian academics living within Israel as “being in the belly of the beast”.

“We are inhabiting the leviathan now, but we didn’t need for October 2023 to happen for us to see this condition,” said Dr Furani, co-editor of Inside the Leviathan: Palestinian Experiences in Israeli Universities.

He said their situation could be traced back to the 1948 Palestine war when the British withdrew, and even back to the 1936 Arab revolt, but continues to the present where academics are often treated as “criminals” for their social media posts.

“It’s as if the founding moment of 1948 has never ended for us,” he said. “The violence that is constitutional to the state has never ended.”

Dr Furani said Israeli universities have been “bewitched” by the state and have abdicated their responsibility as sites of critical learning, adding: “You begin to wonder what is left of the university if all it does it is become something in the image of the state.”

Also speaking at the event, Sawsan Zaher, a human rights lawyer and legal adviser based in Israel, said that since 7 October, Palestinian students and lecturers, as well as Jewish faculty, have been subject to a “massive wave” of complaints, and a targeted social media campaign of incitement.

“There was an intensive, aggressive, intentional start of political persecution that…did not end and is still going on until today in higher education institutions,” she said.

However, she also said, racism and discrimination was nothing new for Palestinian citizens inside Israel.

“It’s not just a background of racism that was already there before 7 October but also the persecution based on political perspective.

“They have been persecuting professors – left-wing Jewish professors, of course Palestinians as well, from at least 10 years, issuing and publishing records targeting them and lobbying against them, trying to promote bills…that target them.”

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Reader's comments (2)

Understood. If you've stood with PSC or JVL over here, you recognize the antagonism over many years. It's just another aspect of the antipathy shown to those who criticize the actions of the Israeli government over many years. In the US, you encounter the influence of AIPAC which is always latent. As the protestors exclaimed at Columbia: why do you teach us Said when you won't allow us to acknowledge him.
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