Amir Hetsroni

Israeli Academia Goes Downhill – From Hetsroni to Shalhoub-Kevorkian

Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian
Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian

The suspension of Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor of criminology and East Jerusalem resident from the Hebrew University, for saying things that are out of synch with the mainstay of the Israeli public regarding the war in Gaza and particularly the October 7th events, throws me back to the end of my career at Ariel University. That university did to me something very similar to what the Hebrew University is doing now to Nadera.

We will get to that; but first – a few words about Nadera. When you quote ten seconds from a one and a half hour long conversation (which is what we are doing to Nadera) it is easy to de-contextualize an isolated sentence in order to show what you want to show. Nadera did not encourage the 7th October massacre, nor did she deny its aftermath. She does think that the incident – as atrocious as it was – is still less severe than what Israel is doing in Gaza now and what it has been doing to the Palestinians since 1948. This legit view does not differ much from what many people in and out of Israel think about the country. Many of them do not cast doubt over Israel’s right to existence, but they do want to see the country radically change its approach to minorities.

I also share this view. This is why Ariel University, sometimes nicknamed “occupation university” (because of its location), decided to get rid of me. The year was 2014. The war was Operation Protective Edge which took place in the same Gaza strip. I was an untenured professor of communication, speaking out loud against that war. I believed then and I believe now that while Hamas’ actions are unacceptable – Israel’s aggressive reaction is also unacceptable and constitutes war crimes. This was enough for Ariel University to claim that my statements are “shameful to the university”.

The process to get rid of me was painful. Even at a university closely identified with the right wing, many faculty members still believed that I have the freedom to express my views, when they are unrelated to my scientific work. Outside the university, academics from various institutes, celebrities and journalists from all walks of life, and the juridical system did not like the idea that an academic is removed from his position only because of his non-Zionist worldview. Eventually, the court recommended that the university would financially respect my work contract until its termination date, while I would give up my campus office and my right to teach. The court’s recommendation was accepted. My academic career in Israel ended, when I am on the payroll of Ariel University without actually working for almost a year.

Amazingly, this is exactly what the management of the Hebrew University is trying to do now to Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian. Unlike me – Nadera is tenured. Therefore, firing her is (still?) not part of the official agenda. The university just does not want to see the non-Zionist professor on campus, teaching future generations about the occupation. Thus, they suspended her.

Back in 1951, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in a precedental case that a person shall not be prone to lose his job and risk his wages only because he has “notorious views”. The plaintiff was Dr. Israel Eldad, a member of Lehi’s senior command and a bible school teacher, who could not find a job despite shortage of teachers, because Ben Gurion himself determined that Eldad’s uncompromising ultra-right wing writings dig under the basis of Israel’s democracy. Eldad won the case, but did not get a job. No school was willing to hire a teacher who the prime-minister in person deems to be “a national risk”. Similarly, no academic institute in Israel was willing to offer me a job after my partly successful juridical carnival against Ariel University. I received my salary in full for a year, but I had to move abroad for work.

What will be the fate of Nadera? Obviously, one cannot tell in advance. Since she is more senior than I was when teaching at Ariel University and because she belongs to two different minorities (Palestinian by birth and Armenian through marriage) it seems that she might be better protected. However, the question remains: How did we get here? Less than a decade ago it was still quite difficult to recruit a majority of professors, members of Ariel University Senate, to confirm a resolution according to which the university is “Zionist” and anyone who is anti-Zionist cannot be part of the university. A significant minority of the faculty found the mixing of ideology and science problematic and even objected to my dismissal only because of my anti-Zionist worldview. Nowadays, the management of the Hebrew University, a much less politically identified school that served as home to Nobel laureates and renowned thinkers from Martin Buber to Yuval Noah Harari, suspends an anti-Zionist professor as a matter of routine. Unfortunately, Israeli academia takes the path of Israeli politics. The direction, when it comes to democracy and freedom of speech, is downhill.

About the Author
Amir Hetsroni was a faculty member at Ariel University in the West Bank. He is emigrating from Israel in order to miss the next war, earn higher wages, enjoy cooler summers, and obtain a living package that is cost-effective. He has three passports and does not feel particularly worried about anti-Semitism.
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