Israeli universities help Shin Bet torturers recruit students

A photo from the University of Haifa’s Facebook page shows the Eshkol Tower which was lit up as the Israeli flag, administrators said, to “express solidarity with Israeli soldiers” during the July-August 2014 assault on Gaza.

Israeli universities are passing on personal information about their students to Israel’s Shin Bet secret police.

According to Haaretz, the universities give the internal intelligence agency (which is notorious for its use of torture) lists of their graduates, including identity card numbers, to use in an effort to recruit them.

The revelation will likely bolster support for the international boycott of Israeli universities called for by Palestinians.

The matter came to light when “a number of social activists, along with thousands of other citizens, received a letter from the Shin Bet saying that, ‘according to the data in our possession,’ they had been deemed qualified for various positions in the Shin Bet’s intelligence operation,” Haaretz reports.

A member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, investigated the matter and was told in a reply from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Shin Bet gets the information directly from the universities.

Haaretz cites a source at one university saying that Shin Bet, also known as Shabak or the General Security Service, makes a formal request to receive lists of an institution’s graduates, including their names, identity card numbers and contact information, but not information about grades.

Haaretz notes that Shin Bet, Israel’s lethal external spy agency Mossad, as well as the police and military intelligence, are “exempt from the rules governing the confidentiality of personal information stipulated in the Protection of Privacy Law, so the universities have no choice but to hand over the requested information.”

However, there is no record of Israeli universities attempting to refuse this sort of collusion in the repressive state apparatus.

Recruiting torturers?

Shin Bet is notorious for its harassment, monitoring and suppression of political activities, including entirely lawful ones, by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Last year, for instance, Shin Bet ordered the incommunicado detention of the journalist Majd Kayyal, while Israeli media and The New York Times complied with a censorship order keeping the matter secret.

Shin Bet plays a major role in violent repression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the interrogation of prisoners under torture.

In March, Haaretz reported a sharp rise in the number of reports of torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents. Torture remains legal and widespread in Israel despite a 1999 high court ruling limiting its use.

The nongovernmental organization the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) told The Jerusalem Post last year that state authorities and the Shin Bet have interpreted the ruling in a way that has led to “less brutality, but not less torture.”

According to PCATI, Shin Bet torturers operate under the principle that “anything not specifically prohibited is permitted.” Techniques used by Shin Bet include sleep deprivation, violent shaking of victims, tying them in painful positions, blasting loud music at them for prolonged periods and spitting and urinating on them.

PCATI notes that Shin Bet agents are never held accountable. From 2001 to 2014, out of 800 complaints filed with the Shin Bet, not a single one led to even opening a criminal investigation, let alone an indictment or a conviction, according to The Jerusalem Post.


“Academic institutions are a key part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people,” according to PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

“Since its founding, the Israeli academy has cast its lot with the hegemonic political-military establishment in Israel, and notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled academics, the Israeli academy is profoundly implicated in supporting and perpetuating Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights,” PACBI adds in its boycott guidelines.

The revelation that Israeli universities pass their students’ information to the secret police adds yet another layer to their complicity in Israel’s repressive regime.

Virtually all Israeli universities enthusiastically supported Israel’s attack on Gaza a year ago that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

The complicity and support included financial benefits for students who took part in the attack on Gaza, including those who may have participated in war crimes.


Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.