Israeli racism, part 174: Another argument for academic boycott of Israel’s universities

by Yaniv Reich on May 14, 2010

Why can’t all Palestinians just speak Hebrew, sing the Israeli national anthem about their Jewish souls, and make us their delicious hummus and “Israeli” salad? Must they always aggravate us by, you know, speaking Arabic?

The ink was drying on Gideon Levy’s most recent piece about how Israelis would really like it if all Arabs disappear (leaving an infinite hummus stock behind) when Haifa University enters the news.

Despite living in a city touted as one of the only ethnically mixed cities in Israel, Jewish students at Haifa University (which has a 25% Palestinian Israeli student body) are very upset about the Palestinian citizens of Israel with whom they are forced to share their campus.

“Many Jewish students feel uncomfortable going outside,” Minyan, spokesperson for the Lavi cell of Jewish students in Haifa University, said. “The Arab groups disseminate flyers in Arabic so that we will not understand. . . . I would feel more comfortable if there were security personnel and Shabak agents walking around, because there is definitely much underground Arab activity.”

Indeed, the passing out of Arabic-language flyers is the very definition of underground activity. Bring in the security forces! Just imagine if these conniving Arabs stopped being so shy and instead organized publicly!

The charming Minyan goes on to explain the “crisis” of high Arab enrollment at the university:

“When prospective students come here to take their pre-university psychometric exams,” Minyan lamented, “the Arab student cells increase their activity purposely so that the Jewish students will not want to enroll here. But I call on them not to fear, and to enroll here—because if they do not, the Arabs will end up being the majority here, as they wish to become.”

How much racist assumption and insinuation can one sentence possibly reveal? I’ll highlight two quick points. First, it is clear from the comments that the mere presence of Arab students on campus is seen as a disincentive to enrollment by current and prospective Jewish students. Second, Jews harbor a fear (don’t they always?) that the true objective of Arabs is to run them over and out. That is the very definition of paranoia. It is also the very definition of chutzpah, since the Arabs that happen to be at Haifa University are the descendants of the few Palestinian natives who were not ethnically cleansed during the Nakba, when majority Arab Palestine was in fact overrun by armed Jews.

On academic boycott

This whole story arose because a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel was to speak at the university. But organized pressure from Jewish groups managed to persuade the administration to ban him from speaking. Ahem, wither academic freedom? Now which group is it again that feels uncomfortable going outside?

The incident serves to highlight an important issue about the academic boycott movement. It might very well be the case that some of Israel’s most progressive professors would be hurt. It’s also certainly the case that the 25% of Haifa University’s Palestinian student body would also be hurt. But at the moment, these institutions serve not only as centers of research and development for Israel’s occupation and colonization. Israel’s universities are also rotten to the core with discriminatory structures that privilege Jews over non-Jews.

These Jewish students were very upset about seeing Arabic flyers around campus, which “they could not understand”. First tip: learn some Arabic before whining. Have you ever heard of Canada, where out of multicultural deference to one Francophone province the entire country operates in both English and French?

A quick scan of Haifa University’s website yields materials in Hebrew and, most obviously, English, but you can also find French, Spanish, German, and Russian materials. Not a word in Arabic, though, despite that Arabs constitute 20% of the national population and 25% of the university population. So my second piece of advice is this: maybe if the university put some Arabic up on its website, you know, perhaps some application and admissions information, Jews might not freak out so much when they see a bit of Arabic writing in their midst.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ayelet July 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for this blog – we could all use some new paradigms for thinking. Small (but important) quibble: while your comments on Israeli racism stand, and the marginalization of Arabic and Arabic-speaking students (and proffesors) at the University of Haifa is indeed a travesty, Sheikh Raed Salah did speak at the University in June 2009, despite the attemps to deny his right to do so.

2 Yaniv Reich October 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Thanks for the correction.

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