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On Academia, Politics and Survival in the Middle East


Ariel University

Ariel University
Photo Credit: Michael Jacobson

I will begin with a disclosure: I am the head of The Israeli Academic Monitor, an organization whose goal is to expose publicly the political activities of those Israeli academics who engage in activities against the state of Israel and against its ability to stand up to the political and security pressures that it faces. These academicians call on institutions and individuals to boycott Israel, to impose sanctions upon it and to withdraw investments from it, while camouflaging and disguising these activities as if they are done in “the academic spirit.” It must be noted that there are, among Israeli academicians, some “righteous” people who call on states and academic institutions of the world to boycott Israeli academic institutions and to impose punishments on those same institutions in which they themselves are employed, and from where they receive their salaries, the source of which is the government of Israel. We, members of The Israeli Academic Monitor, out of concern for Israeli academia in particular and for the state of Israel in general, act within the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression, and publish widely the despicable deeds of these Israeli academicians.

Today I dedicate my article to a matter that has been with us for years, which is the status of the academic institution that was established 30 years ago in the city of Ariel, in Samaria; whether to have it remain as a college or “University Center” (a concept which is not clear to me), or perhaps to raise it to the level of a university. Those who are faithful to the land of Israel support promoting it to become a university, while those who object to Israeli rule in Judea and Samaria – they call it “occupation” – oppose it. Each side of the argument brings economic, budgetary and academic justifications to support its view, but it is clear that the basis for one’s position is primarily political, and that this position dictates which of the justifications are emphasized.

The fact that there is a political argument engenders the perception among the Israeli public that all of the other seven universities are “not political,” and only the institution in Ariel is “political” because it is “in the territories” and therefore its establishment in Ariel has a “political” meaning. My claim is that all of the universities in Israel are political, and moreover, all of the colleges, schools, yeshivas, hospitals, prisons, factories, places of residence, roads, trees – everything that we have established, built, and planted in Israel – everything, but everything, is political. The whole Zionist enterprise is a political project because it is the political and nationalistic manifestation of the desire of the Jewish people to return to its land and to renew within it its national life, its independence and its sovereignty. Everything that we have done here since the students of the Gaon of Vilna arrived in Israel two hundred years ago until today, everything is aimed at renewing our political life as of old, indeed, the whole Zionist enterprise – including universities – has a political, as well as national connotation, and there are also those who see a religious component in this matter, connected in some way to the final redemption.

Jews the world over have joined this great political enterprise of the Jewish people, whether with their bodies or with their wealth. Those who joined bodily came, fought, built, paved, planted, seeded, reaped, learned, taught and did research, all in order to establish the political enterprise of the Jewish people – the State of Israel. Those who joined with their wealth remained in the Diaspora and donated their money to the establishment of schools, hospitals, yeshivas for men, yeshivas for women, colleges and universities, all in order to take part in the political, national and collective endeavor of the people of Israel.

The cornerstone of the first academic institution in Israel was laid exactly 100 years ago. This was the Technion in Haifa. Dr. Paul Natan, was behind the idea to establish “the Technikum” (the original name), enlisted the aid of David Wissotzky (the Tea producer) to donate the required funds, and they established the institution specifically in Israel, and not in the Diaspora, for the same nationalistic and political reason that influenced others to establish other institutions in Israel. Their motivation was to promote the “return to Zion” and the fact that the government of the land was then in the hands of the Muslim Ottoman Empire didn’t bother them. When they founded the first academic institution, their connection was to the Land, not the state, and to establish the life of the people in its land was their top priority.

The first university that was established in Israel, Hebrew University, was also, at first, in 1925, a political act that was intended – this time under the British Mandate – to show the whole world that the people of Israel is returning to its land and intends to live a full life here. But the academic act with the clearest and most political message was the establishment of the University of Tel Aviv in 1956, during the period of the fedayeen and the terror that they perpetrated. This university was deliberately established upon the ruins of the Arab village Sheikh Munis, an act which stated in a clear and lucid manner, that the people of Israel has returned to its land in order to build it and to be built up in it, and it will not yield or bend to its enemies or detractors, who fled in the defensive war of 1948.

The Weizman Institute is named for the noted Zionist political leader, who was also the first president of the state of Israel, and Ben Gurion University in the Negev until today, proudly carries the name of “the” politician par excellence who arose to lead the people of Israel in the modern era, and with his strength of spirit, established the state despite all odds. The University of Haifa was also established by a man from the boiling cauldron of Israeli politics, Aba Hushi, and the academic tower that rises almost 100 meters above the Carmel Mountain Ridge, and is clearly visible from a distance of dozens of kilometers, clearly states the nationalistic and political message that “We are here.”

Only Bar Ilan University carries the name of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, a religious, rather than political figure, who was one of the heads of the national-religious “Mizrachi” movement, and its establishment in 1955 was also a political and public message of religious Judaism.

The inescapable conclusion from all of the above is that all of the academic institutions in Israel are a political and nationalistic expression of the return of the people of Israel to its land and its revival after 1900 years of exile. Israeli academia is not separate from the overall Israeli experience, which is entirely a nationalistic, political deed. The return to Zion was not and is still not a natural development, but rather it is a phenomenon that is outside of nature, and involves an ongoing struggle against the natural environment. Any endeavor of this sort requires activity in the national arena, just as all of the activities connected with it, from the establishment of universities to the planting of trees, are activities that are conducted in the political arena as well. Therefore the names of institutions honor the political leaders who promoted the great achievement of the “return to Zion” in every sense of the phrase.

The fact that the world accepted Israeli academia as an equal member in the global academic community, stemmed from the consensus that included all of the Jewish people, in Israel as well as in the Diaspora, regarding the legitimacy of the state of Israel and its institutions, including the academic ones. This is no simple matter, since there are many countries in the world who do not see Israel as a legitimate state, which is why they boycott the academic institutions. The academic boycott of Israel by these states began in 1948, not in 1967, because the “occupation,” in their eyes, includes Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva and Ramat Gan, not only Ariel and Hebron.

On the agenda these days is the question of the academic institution in Ariel, a city in Israel, that was established on territory that was conquered in 1948 by the Arab Legion and until 1967 was occupied by Jordan, although Jordan’s rule over this territory was never recognized by the world as legitimate. The world also does not recognize the legitimacy of Israeli rule there, and because no state has universally accepted sovereignty, this is not “occupied territory” but rather “disputed territory” according to international law. This fact has been known since 1967, and the report of Judge emeritus Edmond Levi again confirms this important legal fact. Just a reminder: the Technion and Hebrew University were not originally established under Israeli sovereignty because when they were established when the state of Israel did not yet exist. One could say that the state of Israel won sovereignty over the land of Israel partly because of the existence of these institutions, which arose in the land of Israel together with other institutions. Is it not so, that the presence on Mount Scopus of the Hebrew University together with the Hadassah University Hospital, is the reason that this mountain remained under Israeli sovereignty even between 1948 and 1967, even though it was surrounded by the illegitimate Jordanian occupation?

On Tuesday of this week I received the decision to promote Ariel University Center to the status of “university” from the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria and I ask: why was this institution not established as a “university” in the first place, 30 years ago, in 1982, exactly like all of the other universities? When the cornerstone was laid for each one of the other universities, did they already have libraries, laboratories, researchers, staff members, publications, and international partnerships, so that they could be categorized from the start as “universities”?

And to anyone who is concerned about the Gordian Knot that exists between academia and politics, it is important to note that in the beginning of the month, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized the Islamic University in Gaza as an institution suitable for academic partnership. I don’t know what motivated this honorable organization to recognize a university that was established in territory occupied by a terror organization and which operates under its aegis, but my heart tells me that the matter stems from the economic difficulties of UNESCO, since the United States has ceased funding it, and it is trying to attract Arab oil revenues by recognizing the Islamic University in Gaza. Therefore, if it is permissible for the UN to recognize a university that is operated by a terror organization in territory which it conquered, why do the noble knights of Israeli academia not recognize a university that was established in territory that is not occupied and is administered by a democratic state?

But the most important political message is that which was sent by the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria to our neighbors, which is that we in Israel are here to stay. We will not give in to pressure or to terror, we will not apologize for having returned to our land, and we will not yield our rights to do research and to study wherever we live, just as every other people in the world. We did not apologize for establishing the University of Tel Aviv upon the ruins of Sheikh Munis, and therefore there is no reason to apologize for establishing the University of Ariel in the desert. In the Middle East they accept only those who stand up for their rights and are ready to fight for them, because in this area, only those who are invincible live in peace. Moreover: we are willing to help our neighbors establish a university in any of the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria, in order to develop science and education, and to bring the message of progress to the area which needs it so badly: the Universities of Bir Zeit (near Ramallah) and al-Najah (in Nablus) received the status of university not while under Jordanian occupation but under Israeli “occupation,” in the year 1977, and this carried a political message as well, both to Israelis and to the heads of these institutions.

In conclusion, the establishment of a university in any location is an act charged with political significance, and therefore there is no justification for criticizing any specific institution with the accusation that its establishment is a political act. So to all of those who criticize Ariel University I say: look in the mirror, and as we know, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Originally published at http://israelagainstterror.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/mordechai-kedar-on-academia-politics.html

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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One Response to “On Academia, Politics and Survival in the Middle East”

  1. Toby Stupp says:

    A different way to look at the recognition of Ariel as a Unviersity. Definetly not mainstream.

Comments are closed.

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