Jerusalem's Hebrew U to Reexamine Collaboration With Right-wing Group That Blacklists Academics

Students will continue to receive credits for volunteering with Im Tirtzu, which has targeted left-wing groups and academics, at least through the end of the academic year

Im Tirtzu activists protest on Tel Aviv University campus in 2013.
Im Tirtzu activists protest on Tel Aviv University campus in 2013. Credit: Moti Milrod

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem will reexamine its policy that allows students to receive academic credit for volunteering with the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, which has targeted left-wing groups and academics in the past.

In a letter obtained by Haaretz, university legal counsel Pepi Yakirevich wrote that the decision to grant credits to students volunteering with Im Tirtzu will remain in place for the rest of the academic year, but added that a university committee would reexamine the policy and is “considering narrowing the kinds of organizations for which volunteering would be recognized for credit beginning in the next academic year.”

Confirming the veracity of the letter, the university said that it must review the list of accepted organizations because of the complicated logistics of monitoring the list's roughly 140 groups.

The university has been giving academic credits for social service since 2018, and publishes a list of recognized organizations with which students can volunteer. About 1,300 students participate in the university's program. As reported two weeks ago in Haaretz, the university has been granting two academic credits for volunteering with Im Tirtzu, even though university guidelines prohibit political organizations from the program.

University sources had said that Im Tirtzu is not affiliated with any political party or movement and was placed on the list after it described its social service activities for the needy, the elderly and underprivileged populations in Jerusalem, including Arabs.

The organization was founded in 2006 to promote and strengthen what it calls “the values of Zionism in Israel.” It operates 15 branches at various academic institutions throughout the country.

It attracted public attention about a decade ago when it ran a campaign against the New Israel Fund. Members of Im Tirtzu often protest against left-wing organizations, and the group has dubbed left-wing 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 condemnations in Israel – including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has run high-profile campaigns accusing left-leaning politicians and cultural figures of subversion, and last year began a website featuring the names and contact information of university lecturers who have expressed left-wing opinions. It also has a telephone number where students can report comments by professors.

Ariel University in the West Bank settlement of Ariel recently also grants academic credit for social service volunteer work with Im Tirtzu, but Tel Aviv University rejected a request by the group to qualify for its program due its political character. Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Bar-Ilan University rejected similar requests on technical grounds, and The University of Haifa said that it has not received a request from Im Tirtzu.

When Haaretz initially reported that students were receiving credits for work with the organization, Im Tirtzu responded by calling on 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."

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