Union 'Expels' Palestinian Professor Who Took Students to Auschwitz

Supposed expulsion occurred after union sent students to Prof. Dajani’s office in Al-Quds University to protest the trip. He says he was never a member, and that the expulsion is phony.

Matthew Kalman
The gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.Credit: AP
Matthew Kalman

The Al-Quds University professor who led the first group of Palestinian students to visit Auschwitz has been expelled from the university’s workers union – even though he was never a member to begin with.

Professor Mohammed Dajani said he would take legal action against the union, accusing its leaders of “incitement” against him.

The latest assault on Dajani’s reputation occurred just three days after Palestinian President Mohammad Abbas described the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”

Dajani’s supporters had hoped that the unprecedented comments by the Palestinian leader indicated a change in the traditional view of the Holocaust as either an element of Zionist propaganda or a reference point for Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

But on April 30, the professors and employees union at Al-Quds University announced in a letter that they had suspended Dajani’s membership due to "behavior that contravenes the policies and norms" of the union.

The supposed expulsion occurred after the union had sent students to Dajani’s office in the Al-Quds University Library, where he is director, to protest the Auschwitz trip.

Rima Najjar, assistant professor of English Literature at Al-Quds University, justified the union decision, saying the “norms” Dajani had violated were the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli universities supported by the union.

“The letter does not state this, but the discussion prior to the announcement refers to the trip he took with some students to visit Auschwitz,” she explained on her Facebook page.

But Dajani said he had never been a member of the union, so the “expulsion” was phony. He said he would make a legal challenge to the union announcement, which was an insult that had placed his personal safety and livelihood at risk.

“You know that I am not a member of your union and I did not register in it. I have nothing to do with your union and I have never participated in any of its activities or elections. Therefore, you are aware that the decision to dismiss me from a union I am not a member of is only aimed at slander, provocation, and personal and professional harm in an obvious violation of legal provisions,” Dajani told the union leadership.

“You know that the decision you made is a blatant interference in my work as a teacher, which aims to transfer learning and advance knowledge to students, and to reinforce both. You have no right to interfere in this work and force your opinions upon my teaching method,” he said.

Dajani revealed he had met with the union president, who had agreed to arrange a meeting where the professor could discuss his views. Instead, the union expelled him, failing to follow its own proper procedures, Dajani charged.

The union decision appears to have widespread support at Al-Quds. Najjar denounced the Auschwitz visit as “a misguided stunt” and dismissed the parallel visit by Israeli students to a Palestinian refugee camp.

“What has a Palestinian refugee camp got to do with the death camp at Auschwitz except reinforce the false Zionist narrative that justifies the colonization of Palestine on account of Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis? The whole affair is a misguided stunt,” she said.

”It could be argued that such an educational experience for Jewish Israeli students might contribute something to a just peace. But having Palestinian students visit Auschwitz can only appear to send them (and the world) the message that they have somehow to take on the responsibility for the evil they are witnessing and accept to give up their fundamental rights, because of such a horror,” she said.

But many of Dajani’s students support him, including those who were not on the controversial trip to Poland. Some declined to comment publicly, saying they were also under pressure from critics.

“I was not of the participants, but I am happy that I am one of his students,” said Mohanad Shakarne, a first-year student in Media and American Studies from Bethlehem. “The trip took place in the framework of research and scientific exploration to refute racist ideology.”

Prof Dajani told me he was determined not to remain silent, and that the backlash against his initiative had echoes of the pressure that had silenced critics of the Nazis.

“Hate, racism, and bigotry spread when a reign of terror rules and fear cripples the good people and they freeze as bystanders doing nothing to protest evil… making evil become more and more powerful,” Dajani said. “That is why I took it upon myself not to be a bystander. In this struggle of corrupt politics, hijacked religion, and lost morality, I decided not to be a bystander.”

“An educational trip to honor the memory of the victims of the ugliest atrocities in history, becomes an inquisition trial tainted with twisted politics and we stand by and do nothing. Words of sympathy and compassion by a Palestinian leader expressed to show empathy and humanity to the suffering of a historic enemy are received with ridicule and cynicism. Jews struggling for justice, peace and reconciliation are being boycotted by Palestinians calling for boycotts and anti-normalization. In these clashes between moral values and narrow political interests, evil will continue to prevail if the good look on and do nothing,” he said.