The following open letter to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim was issued on 9 November 2009 by Arab students at Israeli universities. The university’s board is due to consider a measure supporting the academic boycott of Israel:
We are Arab students at the Israeli universities writing to you in support of the proposed academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. We believe that the boycott is timely and hopefully will help in upholding moral values of fairness, justice and equality which have been sorely missed in our region.
While the reason for the boycott is rightly what has been going on in the 1967 occupied territories [West Bank and Gaza Strip], we propose another angle which affirms the need for boycott, namely our daily experience as Arabs in Israeli institutions. We are the lucky ones who have been able to pursue our studies in institutions of higher education, to which we arrived against great odds. Only very few among our generation have been qualified to attend universities due to the state’s discriminatory policies. Our schools mostly lack the basic facilities needed for education, and the curriculum is structured to serve the state’s goal in socializing the pupils for self-estrangement. It contains very little, if any at all, on our history and culture. Additionally, it aims to erase our historical memory and promote the official policy line of divide and rule. In short, it is modeled on curriculums that dark regimes, like apartheid South Africa, have used to indoctrinate rather than educate. We arrive to universities with this “educational” baggage.
The idea that Israeli universities adhere to the values of free academic institutions, where academic freedom, objectivity and meritocracy prevail, is widely accepted in the West. From our experience we attest — and indeed prove beyond doubt — that this is not the case. In recent years Israeli universities have changed the criteria of acceptance to various faculties in order — as a certain president of an Israeli university put it — to prevent large number of undesirable (i.e. Arab) students from attending prestigious faculties such as medicine and natural sciences. Moreover, lecturers who presented findings which are at odds with the official ideology — such as Ilan Pappe and Neve Gordon — are bullied and harassed or forced to resign. Meanwhile raw racist statements by many lecturers are considered by the administrations of the universities as benign or even objective statements. For example, recently Dr. Dan Scheuftan stated in one of his lectures: “The Arabs are the biggest failure in the history of the human race … there’s nothing under the sun that’s more screwed up than the Palestinians;” “Throughout the Arab world, people fire guns at weddings in order to prove that they have at least one thing that’s hard and in working order that can shoot.”
It goes without saying that none of these lecturers has ever been disciplined. Moreover, foreign students are warned by the security authorities of Haifa University not to visit Arab villages or towns.
Although some Israeli universities — such as the University of Haifa — pride themselves on promoting “co-existence,” nothing is further from the truth than this. We are prevented from forming our [own] (i.e. Arab) students union, and racial discrimination against us — under the pretext of not serving in the army — is widely practiced in the granting of scholarships, as well as in the provision of housing at the universities’ residential halls. This is particularly grave as the universities are located in Jewish towns, and Arab students face many obstacles and hardships in finding appropriate housing due to prevailing prejudices and anti-Arab sentiments in Israeli society.
Yet, the restrictions imposed on our freedom of expression are more stifling. We are not allowed to express our collective sentiments or ideas publicly. It is quite often that our public gatherings are not only violently interrupted by extreme right-wing Jewish students, but also in various occasions the universities called on the police to intervene. In several occasions, as during our peaceful demonstration at Haifa University against the war on Gaza, the police sent in large number of its special units which are infamous for their brutality. Needless to say that they do the job they are trained for. Moreover, the universities collaborate with the internal security services (the feared Shin Bet) and provide them with names of the activists among the students who are regularly summoned, investigated and threatened.
In the end, we are hopeful that you will take a decision which reaffirms the true meaning of human values, and provide a proof that racism, religious tribalism, obfuscation and disregard for human dignity are no longer tolerated.
Abnaa el-Balad - The Student Movement
Iqraa Student Association - Islamic Movement
National Democratic Assembly (NDA) - The Student Movement