Jerusalem's Hebrew U to Give Students Credit for Volunteering With Right-wing Group That Blacklists Academics

Im-Tirzu targets left-leaning politicians, public figures and academics as subversives

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Hebrew University of Jerusalem, August 2018.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, August 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Hebrew University is to give two academic credits to students who volunteer for the right-wing group Im Tirtzu, although the university regulations state that such credits are not to be given for work with political groups.

In 2019, Im Tirtzu started a website that posted the names and contact information of dozens of lecturers who had expressed left-wing opinions. Since 2017, the movement has also operated a phone line to take reports about lecturers.

The Im Tirtzu group was founded in 2006 in order to promote and strengthen what it calls "the values of Zionism in Israel." It operates 15 branches in different academic institutions throughout the country. It came under the limelight in the beginning of the 2010s when it ran a campaign against the New Israel Fund.

Members of Im Tirtzu often protest against left-wing organizations, among them Breaking the silence – a group publishing first-person testimonies of veterans of the Israeli army who served in volatile areas such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The group has dubbed organizations like Breaking the Silence "foreign moles who protect terrorists," going so far as to target them in a public campaign from 2016 that drew a lot of condemnations in Israel – including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hebrew University responded that the academic credits given for volunteering with Im Tirtzu are not for political activity, but rather for social service, and that such recognition is given to any organization that meets the minimum requirements.

The university has been giving academic credits for social service since 2018, and publishes a list of recognized organizations once a year. The list includes volunteer work with welfare organizations operated by the municipality in hospitals; youth, seniors, Holocaust survivors and asylum seekers; and social service projects run by the university itself for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. To receive the credits, students must volunteer at least 30 hours a month.

Im Tirtzu, which has run harsh, high-profile campaigns accusing left-leaning politicians and cultural figures of subversion, was founded in 2006 to promote what it calls “Zionist values in Israel.” The movement has 15 branches in Israeli academic institutions. On the website Im Tirtzu started in 2019, the names and contact information of 80 lecturers from all of Israel’s universities except Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities, as well as the Jezreel Valley Academic College, and the Ruppin and Tel Aviv-Yaffo colleges.

The details of the lecturers given on the site contain inaccuracies. Hebrew University’s Dr. Carola Hilfrich, who sparked a media storm when a video showed her arguing with a student in army uniform, is said to have been filmed “shouting at a student and telling her to come [to class]in civilian dress … after the student was attacked by an Arab student. … According to testimony, the lecturer even physically harmed the student.” However, Haaretz checked and found no evidence that the student was attacked by another student or was physically harmed by Hilfrich.

The Im Tirtzu website also claimed that a lecturer from the Ruppin Academic Center, Prof. Efrat Ben-Zeev, had signed a petition of support for the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, although on a link to the petition, her name does not appear as a signatory.

Representatives of a group of students supporting Meretz and a group supporting the Labor Party said: “If the university chooses not to retract the granting of points for activity in Im Tirtzu, we demand that the activities of all political student groups on campus be recognized for social action that grants them points.”

In a letter sent by the representatives to the Hebrew University’s rector Prof. Barak Medina, Dean of Students Prof. Guy Harpaz and the head of the unit for social action, Yifat Cohen-Hadad, the student activists wrote: “it seems that the university has made a mistake in judgment as to the political identity of Im Tirtzu. This is a clearly right-wing organization whose activities in general are delegitimization of organizations and individuals whose positions differ” from those of the organization.

Im Tirtzu responded: “As the largest Zionist organization in Israel and the most active student movement on campuses in the country, we call on all students who want to continue to realize the Zionist vision and promote the values of Zionism in the 21st century as well, to join the activities of Im Tirtzu. Now, students can volunteer and help the people of Israel and their future and receive two academic credits. This is good news for Zionist students everywhere.”

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