Editorial |

A Second Chance for Katz

Haaretz Editorial
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Palestinians leaving the village of Tantura in 1948
Palestinians leaving the village of Tantura in 1948Credit: Israel State Archives
Haaretz Editorial

The renewed public interest in the massacre at Tantura during the War of Independence necessitates a reexamination of the master’s thesis Teddy Katz submitted to the University of Haifa a quarter of a century ago. The thesis, which initially received a grade of “excellent,” was later disqualified, leading to his degree being disqualified as well. But this thesis was responsible for the fact that the important debate over this sorry incident is still ongoing.

As several members of the university’s faculty wrote in an op-ed published in Haaretz in Hebrew last week (June 23), any reexamination of the thesis must take into account that “it’s not every day a master’s student's thesis manages to shed new light on a significant event in the history of our country.”

Even if, as the university’s rector, Prof. Gur Alroey, has shown, Katz’s thesis includes some mistakes and inaccuracies – something that’s not unreasonable in a master’s thesis – Katz has the right to belated justice, and to have his thesis reexamined.

The exceptional circumstances of his case justify this unusual step. This time, the examination should be conducted by neutral, independent outside experts whose names won’t be revealed, so as to neutralize the ideological background noise and ego battles.

From a research standpoint, there’s no longer much point in reexamining the thesis. Katz’s work included testimony that has already been published and investigated in countless articles and opinion pieces, and recently also in Alon Schwarz’s important film “Tantura.” But the venomous attacks, mainly by rightists, that Katz endured at the time and still endures today, are a dangerous development for a democratic country. Academia must stand behind him. This onslaught has already cost Katz his health, but his reputation can still be saved – something Schwarz began doing through his documentary film.

The Haifa University faculty who signed the op-ed noted that after his thesis was first reexamined, Katz was supposed to get a “passing” grade on it, since that was the average of the grades he received from the five thesis committee members who read it. But the university administration later disqualified the thesis on the surprising grounds that “even the positive opinions included substantive criticism.” The op-ed’s signatories also raised additional arguments relating to suspicions that not all necessary efforts were made to maintain the wall of separation between political or ideological leanings and substantive professional scrutiny of the thesis.

Katz may not deserve an “excellent” grade for the thesis itself. But he deserves credit for having rescued a forgotten incident from oblivion – an incident about which the last word has yet to be said.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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