Did Auschwitz Trip Lead to Palestinian Professor's Resignation?

Mohammed Dajani, the Al-Quds University professor who led the first organized group of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz, tenders resignation.

Matthew Kalman
Matthew Kalman
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Prof. Mohammed S. Dajani at Al-Quds University.
Prof. Mohammed S. Dajani at Al-Quds University.Credit: Matthew Kalman
Matthew Kalman
Matthew Kalman

Mohammed Dajani, the Al-Quds University professor who received plaudits and threats earlier this year after leading the first organized group of Palestinian university students to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, has resigned from the university after weeks of mounting pressure.

He heads the Department of American Studies and is the director of the Al-Quds University Library, which has just moved into an impressive new building.

Professor Dajani told Haaretz he felt he had no choice after the university authorities refused to back up their private assurances with a display of public support after what he described as a campaign of “incitement” against him from some members of the university faculty.

Following the Auschwitz trip, Dajani was denounced as a “traitor” and “collaborator” by Palestinian critics and expelled from a university staff union. He says it is important for Palestinians to understand their “enemy” – the Israelis – including the role the Holocaust plays in shaping Israeli policy and consciousness.

Dajani submitted a letter of resignation on May 18, hoping the university authorities would reject it and denounce the campaign against him. Instead, he received a response from the university personnel department that his resignation would take effect on June 1.

“I wanted the president of the university to take a stand by not accepting my resignation and in doing so to send a clear and loud message to the university employees and students, and in general, to the Palestinian community, that the university supports academic freedom and considers my trip as an educational journey in search of knowledge by which I broke no university policy, rules, or regulations,” Dajani said.

“Some may consider my letter of resignation from Al-Quds University as a kind of ‘surrender’ to those opposed to academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression. I don’t,” he said. “In submitting my resignation, I feel I took the battle to a higher level. My letter of resignation from Al-Quds University was a kind of litmus test to see whether the university administration supports academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression as they claim or not.”

Dajanai said he decided to resign after his students were told that university officials had played an active part in the campaign against him, including his expulsion from the staff union – an organization he never joined in the first place. He was also dismayed that in its only official response to the trip, the university tried to distance itself from their professor, claiming he was "on leave" and acting "in a personal capacity."

In May, Dajani met with Prof Sari Nusseibeh, the outgoing university president, and Dr Imad Abu Kishek, the incoming president, who assured him privately that they were committed to academic freedom at Al-Quds, that he had broken no university rules in taking his students to Auschwitz and that none of the university’s leadership supported the campaign to oust him from the university. Dajani says he decided to test their resolve by submitting his resignation so they could reject it and give him their public backing – but they didn’t come through.

“Professor Nusseibeh expressed his view that in submitting my resignation, I would seem as if I am quitting the academic freedom battle,” Dajani said. “However, I expressed my view that the university administration should reject the resignation first in order to send a clear and emphatic message to the university community it supports academic freedom and that I broke no university rules, regulations, or policies in order to create an appropriate academic environment for teaching and to deescalate the negative perception about the trip and against me within the Palestinian community.”

“By accepting my resignation, their message was loud and clear – ‘there is no place for Dajani’s ideas on our campus. Those who take the same path will end up the same way.’ Isn’t that the same message the Athenians wanted to send to Socrates’ students by condemning him to death?” Dajani said.

“I put my job on the line to expose the double-talk we live,” Dajani told Haaretz. “We say something and do the opposite. We say we are for democracy and we practice autocracy, we say we are for freedom of speech and academic freedom, yet we deny people to practice it.”

“The university ignited and escalated the hate campaign against the trip and me by issuing upon our return its statement distancing itself from the trip saying it had nothing to do with it and that I was on leave. No such statement was issued when the military parades were held on university campus,” he said.

“It was their call to reject the resignation to wipe out the impact of their initial negative statement by showing their support to this learning trip so that the university community and the public knows it truly stands for academic freedom by supporting this trip as an educational journey to advance knowledge and that such trips would be encouraged in the future. Losing my job would then be a small price to pay in order to achieve that objective.”

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