Opinion

Silence as Israel Destroys Academia

A bill that would make Ariel University in the West Bank a de facto part of Israel is a guaranteed formula for a tsunami against science in the country

Students at Ariel University in the West Bank, March 14, 2016
Reuters

Some 220 academics – the majority of them senior faculty members, including recipients of the Israel Prize, the EMET Prize for Art, Science and Culture and other international awards – have signed on to a campaign calling on Israels Council for Higher Education to oppose the bill that would place Ariel University under its auspices. Many others have asked to join in.

The bill, which would apply Israeli law to institutions of higher learning in the West Bank, has already passed its preliminary vote in the Knesset. According to a report in Haaretz last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett threatened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would block other legislation until this one advanced.

If it does pass, the bill will be a serious blow to Israels splendid academic institutions, the high-tech industry and the scientific innovation that comes from its universities and research institutes.

Its hard to think of a better gift for the BDS movement. The main sources of funding from overseas will dry up; thousands of young people studying abroad will find it hard to come back to Israel, whose academic research will be severely harmed by open and hidden boycotts; scientific articles to international journals will be rejected with various excuses; Israeli graduates who want to study outside of the country will find it difficult to find an appropriate place. The bill is a guaranteed formula for a tsunami against science in Israel.

Many members of the general public are not aware of the fact that the main sources of funding for scientific research in Israel are European research agreements that do not include the settlements. All the agreements, including the largest one, Horizon 2020, require that no funds are transferred – directly or indirectly – to the settlements. Another prominent body, the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation, does not accept research proposals from the settlements. This annexation of Ariel University heralds a halt in the massive funding support that is the lifeblood of academic life.

This is not the first time that the current Israeli government, which has attacked the courts, the media and every other possible source of criticism against it, has been happy to attack academia, which it sees as a leftist magnet. But the thundering silence of the heads of the universities, the CHE and its budget and planning subcommittee against the serious threat to academia is reminiscent of the silence in other regimes in the past.

There were those in Israels National Academy of Sciences who signed on the call to oppose the bill (like its vice president, Prof. David Harel). However, a closer examination revealed that the heads of such bodies fear that they will be identified as political. This fear is making them give up their ability to block the bill – which they can do.

According to the new bill, Ariel University would become a de facto part of the State of Israel. This is how the distinction between academic institutions in Israel and a university that was expressly build to deepen the occupation is eliminated. The repression, humiliation, abuse and especially the segregation regime in the territories beyond the Green Line raise a great deal of anger in the academic community around the world. A university as an institution is not usually viewed as part of such an evil apparatus, which makes it is easy for the government to advance its annexation of Ariel University, but not the city of Ariel itself.

But the university in Ariel is different from any other university in Israel – and in the world, for that matter. There is no other region in which a clear apartheid regime operates as it does over the Green Line, where about 400,000 settlers live under a civilian government while 2.5 million Palestinians suffocate under military rule.

Israelis vote for the Knesset and determine the fate of their neighbors, who do not vote. The living conditions of the Palestinian residents in about 200 Bantustans in the territories – the severe limits on movement, serious discrimination in allocating water in favor of the settlements, the roads for settlers only – are all part of the version of apartheid conducted in the West Bank. This is the apartheid within which lie Ariel University and Ariel itself – an urban settlement of some 20,000 people surrounded by towns in which some 50,000 Palestinians live under a regime of segregation.

A university located in a segregation zone cannot be part of the State of Israel, which is still a democracy despite the severe discrimination that exists against its Arab citizens. On top of the disgust that the proposed link between Ariel and Israeli academic institutions causes, it is a real danger to academia. But the government and Netanyahu are willing to destroy academia in return for winning the support of the settlers, which are the main army in the street that is left for the right – as it was demonstrated once again two weeks ago, when settlement rabbis were invited to the office of the leader in order to guarantee his future.

If the heads of Israels academic institutions do not respond, and quickly, the destruction of the universities will be recorded in their names, too.

Amiram Goldblum is a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the recipient of the universitys Kaye Innovation Award in 2017.