Israeli Professor Says University Seeks to Fire Him for Sympathizing With Palestinian Victims of Gaza War

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Students at Bar-Ilan University. Chances of Mizrahim attaining a higher education are 2.6 to 3 times lower than for Ashkenazim.
Students at Bar-Ilan University.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Bar-Ilan University’s appointments committee is to weigh the continued employment of Prof. Hanoch Sheinman, whose comments expressing sympathy for all victims of the fighting in Gaza in 2014 – while making it clear that the great majority were Palestinians – led to his rebuke by senior university officials. Sheinman said the process to which he was summoned is not enshrined in the university charter and neither its procedures nor its goal are clear.

The university rejected Sheinman’s remarks and said the process was “accepted in academic institutions, including at Bar-Ilan.”

In July 2014, Sheinman, a member of the university’s law faculty, wrote an email to students in one of the courses he was teaching, that he hoped his message “finds you in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs.”

Sheinman added that he hoped his students and their families “remained safe and healthy until the conflict ends and always.”

Some students read his statements as support for the Palestinians and complained to the faculty’s dean, Prof. Shahar Lifschitz, that their feelings had been “insulted.” Lifschitz condemned the letter as “hurtful." Lifschitz apologized to the students and demanded that Sheinman do the same, although he eventually retracted that demand. The university’s response roused criticism in Israel and abroad.

Sheinman’s attorney, Nava Pinchuk, wrote Lifschitz summoning Sheinman to a meeting “under an expedited timetable, before the process has been formulated or approved by the university’s institutions, has a single goal: bringing about the end of his employment in the university.”

The university responded that the procedure to summon non-tenured lecturers whose contracts are renewed yearly is common. The purpose is to examine such lecturers’ “progress in the relevant academic parameters for promotion and tenure. ... This was done with Prof. Sheinman, as has been done with other lecturers in the law faculty and the university.”

The university also said decisions regarding promotion “are made according to professional considerations only. Prof. Sheinman’s letter to students during Operation Protective Edge and his political views had no bearing on the question of his continued employment at the university.”

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