A lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who allegedly reprimanded a student who came to her class in her army uniform will not teach for the next few weeks due to the threats she has received.
Contrary to the original media reports, it was actually the student who initiated the discussion with Carola Hilfrich of her uniform, according to both an inquiry by the university and interviews conducted Haaretz with five other students who were in the lecture hall at the time. Moreover, there was no argument or discussion of the issue during the class itself.
Nevertheless, the media reports sparked a surge of hate mail to Hilfrich, and the university even received explicit threats on her life. There were also calls for her dismissal.
Last week, the Kan public broadcaster played a recording in which Hilfrich is heard telling the student-soldier, “You can’t be naive and expected to be treated like a civilian when you want to be in uniform. You’re a solder in the Israeli army, and you’ll be treated accordingly.” Later, the Ynet website published a video clip of the conversation.
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According to these reports, Hilfrich initiated this conversation in order to rebuke the student after another student, an Arab woman, commented on her uniform.
But the university’s inquiry found that it was the student in uniform who began the conversation with Hilfrich, and only after class, because she was upset by the Arab student’s comments. The video clip even shows that Hilfrich tried to end the conversation and leave, at which point the student said, “I have other issues [to discuss].”
Several students who were in the classroom told Haaretz that no discussion about the soldier’s uniform took place during class.
One student, R., said she witnessed the conversation between the Arab student and the soldier, but it didn’t happen during class. “At the end of the class, after everyone had gotten up, the Arab student said something to the soldier, who answered, ‘I wear a uniform to defend Israel.’”
The Arab student disagreed, R. said, but that was the end of the conversation. And Hilfrich didn’t even hear it, R. added, because she was talking with another student who had approached her after class.
Four other students also said they heard nothing during the class itself.
“During the class, we discussed an article by Freud about the individual versus the masses, and someone said it was relevant to Europe, not to a people under colonialism, which alters the views accepted by society,” said a female student who, liked the other students interviewed by Haaretz, requested anonymity.
“An Arab student in the class said that in her view, the traditional Arab society in this land was also harmed by the Zionist enterprise. The lecturer told her, with political correctness, ‘It’s hard for me to express a professional opinion about Palestinian society because I haven’t researched the subject.’ There was no expression of a personal opinion and no criticism.”
A second student confirmed this version of the events. “We discussed a text by Freud, not something politically explosive,” she said. “Toward the end of the class, Dr. Hilfrich said that next time, we’d talk about postcolonial theory. An Arab student spoke and compared Israel to colonialism. But this discussion didn’t go anywhere; there was no personal unpleasantness against anyone.”
A third student added: “I didn’t hear anything said to the soldier during the class, at any point. The discussion was about an article by Freud, and a discussion about authority developed. Naturally, everyone understands this term according to his own personal worldview, but there was no direct talk about politics.”
A fourth agreed. “Carola is very careful not to get into political arguments in class,” he said.
All five of the students who spoke to Haaretz said the soldier frequently attends class in uniform, but this has never caused any comment or conflict. “She’s been in uniform since the first class, but nobody ever said anything to her about it during or after class,” one said.
“There hasn’t been one class that she didn’t come to in uniform,” another said, but nobody said or even insinuated anything to her.”
As for the claim that Hilfrich sought to “humiliate” the soldier, the other students said their conversation took place near the faculty offices, where very few people generally go.
Gur Zak, chairman of the university’s literature department, issued a statement of support for Hilfrich.
“It’s important to us to clarify that the media coverage of the regrettable incident between Carola and the student was a series of inaccuracies,” he wrote. “At no stage did Carola forbid the student to come to class in uniform. She didn’t remove her from the class, and she certainly didn’t use physical violence against her, God forbid.
“Following the distorted and irresponsible reports in the media, Carola has faced a wave of unbridled violent incitement that ought to stop, and shouldn’t ever have begun,” Zak added. “Even when upsetting or controversial statements are made, threats of violence cannot be accepted in an academic setting, or in society in general.”