“Attendance Is Mandatory” may sound like the beginning of a post about school attendance, but it is not; it is a post about compulsory indoctrination at universities in Israel. On Sunday, at an academic convention at Haifa University, Israel, a new book was presented: Islam Is the Solution. The author of the book is none other than Abdullah Nimar Darwish, who founded the Islamic Movement in Israel, was convicted of terrorism, and served jail time in Israeli prison. One of the university professors declared that the status of the lecture is “attendance is mandatory,” and demanded that the students participate actively in this “important discussion.”
The university’s formal explanation was that the lecture is an academic event in every sense of the word. Despite the fact that the book and the lecture present terrorists as victims and Israelis, not Israeli soldiers, but all Israelis, as abusive oppressors, the university declared that it is tantamount to any other reading material.
Could the situation have been the reverse? Could a Zionist activist, convicted of terrorism against Palestinians, be invited to speak at Birzeit University near Ramallah (the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority)? Never in a million years, and rightly so; it makes no sense to invite an avowed enemy to speak to young people in your country and influence their pliable minds.
All over the world, universities determine their agendas according to their donors’ identity. When their prime donors are anti-Israel, such as the case with many universities in the US and the UK, the schools’ curricula reflect this view. But in Israel, where universities are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, promoting an anti-Israel agenda simply makes no sense. I understand that in this way, these academic institutions are trying to show the world that they are democratic and offer equal opportunities to everyone, but I do not think that endorsing explicitly anti-Israel speakers is appropriate.
I am all for freedom of expression, and I think there should be no oppression of any person or opinion. However, academia should be a place where people learn skills and professions, not where they are brainwashed.
I am not saying that it is easy to teach history, civics, philosophy, and other courses in humanities, liberal arts, and social science without exposing one’s political leaning, but this should certainly be the goal. This should be the official policy of the state, the official policy of the university, certainly with state-funded universities, and professors and lecturers should aspire to abide by it, with the help of rigorous monitoring by university staff. The fact that today’s lecturers and today’s curricula are far more politically biased, in some cases even blatantly so, means that politicizing a course is a trend, and trends can be reversed.
There is, however, one subject that should be taught without any restraints or fetters: connection and mutual care among people. The world we see today reflects the tensions and enmities that pervade society. The reason so much of today’s schooling is political is that the aspiration to enforce one’s view on all of society has intensified in everyone, making previously non-political discussions heated and hate-filled disputes over governance and government, where each side believes that the other side is not only wrong, but that its view is an existential threat and should be treated as such.
As a counterweight to this trend, we must teach—and this is the most important lesson all of us should learn if we want to survive—that we have no other choice but to learn to care about each other. Israel is not the United States. If we are not united, we will not survive. If we are united, we will have no enemies. In my opinion, “Unity First” should be a mandatory course in every faculty, discipline, and major in academia.