Officials: Hebrew University Heads ‘Afraid’ of Criticizing Government

Criticism follows university’s 'self-censored' release of inconspicuous, mild statement on recent violence in Jerusalem.

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Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Credit: Tess Scheflan

Officials at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have accused their executive committee of being afraid of criticizing the government, following its release of a softly worded, narrowly circulated statement condemning the recent violence in Jerusalem.

Palestinians burn tires during clashes with Israeli border police in East Jerusalem, November 5, 2014.Credit: AP

The statement, which was published on the university’s website but not in a prominent position, mentions “times of peace and liberty,” and does not criticize either side.

“The university authorities are afraid that the publication of the statement, moderate as it is, would be perceived as being critical of the government and fears even more that they will be hurt by it,” an official told Haaretz.

The executive committee comprises about 60 public figures from Israel and abroad, along with faculty members. About a month ago, a group within the committee began formulating a resolution condemning recent violence. It went through several iterations, before being approved about 10 days ago.

“The university is following with concern recent developments in the region, which constitute an obstacle to life in Jerusalem and threaten the peace of all its citizens,” the resolution said. “As an institution seeking to promote knowledge, learning and contributions to society, we are very worried about the impact of these events on our community of students and scholars.”

The statement also noted the university was a “heterogeneous community of Jews, Muslims, Christians and others. We are also part of the international academic community, which is based on conflict resolution by means of persuasion, not coercion or violence.”

The statement said the university would always aspire “to maintain tolerance toward all ethnic and religious groups that constitute this rich and special community of our students and scholars.”

The statement ends with a call to “all involved to avoid violence and turn to words in resolving the conflict in the region, and to remind all the worried leaders that Jerusalem is not just a city of holy places and citizens with a varied culture, but an international academic center that can flourish best only in times of peace and liberty.”

One part of the statement mentions its dissemination among students and faculty, but this has not been done. “In tense times, such a statement could have an impact,” a university figure said, adding, “There are quite a few Arab students here who would be happy to know that the university does not consider them transparent but is worried about them. But the resolution has no meaning if only a small group of people know about it.”

Another university figure said it was good that the statement was released but if it was not more widely publicized, it was only a halfway step. “If the university’s voice is not heard, if it chooses to keep quiet and talk mainly to itself – that is a worrisome manifestation of self-censorship. In a democratic society, cultural institutions are meant to express their positions without fear. When an institution like the Hebrew University is under pressure, that shows Israeli society is going through a bad process.”

The Hebrew University did not comment for this report.

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