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Israeli Universities Cave to Pressure from Far-Right NGOs, Sponsor ‘Academic’ Hasbara Training Programs

joseph klafter

Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter caves to pressure from ideological extremists (Aaron Lynett/National Post)

Over the past several years, the Israeli far-right think tank, the Institute for Zionist Strategies, has accused Tel Aviv University (TAU) and other academic institutions of being hotbeds of anti-Zionism.  Here is how I described the campaign waged by IZS in a 2010 post:

[IZS is] demanding the firing of “left-wing” professors considered hostile to Zionism.  They also want to “reform” the teaching of Zionism in the social sciences by removing “anti-Zionist” materials from the syllabi and removing unconventional or dissident ideas as well. …[The TAU] president has asked to review the course offering of the sociology department after a complaint that it was infested by “post-Zionist” thinking, which was defined as: “…The pretense to undermine the foundations of the Zionist ethos and an affinity with the radical leftist stream.”

Another aspect of “post-Zionist” thinking was the notion that Israel’s being a Jewish state would preclude it from being a democracy.  Such ideas are apparently verboten in a truly patriotic Israeli university.  Another aspect of academic life that alarmed the thought police was a ‘clear connection’ between left-wing academics and NGOS whose views ranged from “left” to “radical left.” An IZS “report” contained this highly scientific observation that quantified the anti-Zionism running amok in Israeli academe:

The paper says final figures from the courses examined shows syllabi contained 146 sources the authors defined as Zionist and 440 sources deemed post-Zionist.

In that earlier post, I was amazed that a University president would actually take it as his job to review the syllabi of individual courses:

The university has stated that since this is [Joseph] Klafter’s first year as president, he is intensively studying what is being taught at the university, and this includes reviewing course syllabi.

Such actions should set off alarm bells in any self-respecting faculty member who respects academic freedom.  It’s bad enough when outside think tanks with ideological axes to grind exert pressure.  But when the chief executive officer of the educational institution allows himself to be held hostage, that’s time to man the battle stations. Elements of this campaign remind me of the modus operandi of Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, in which students are encouraged to report on the ideological proclivities of their professors and faculty rated according to their level of anti-Israelism.  This is precisely what IZS did in its own academic studies of the sociology departments of various Israeli universities.  Though in its case it didn’t call  professors “anti-Israel,” but “post Zionist.”  That seems to be the term of art for the Israeli far right think tanks.

Sure enough, Tel Aviv caved to the pressure.  According to Yossi Gurvitz’s recent 972 Magazine post:

Two Israeli universities, Haifa University and Tel Aviv University, now offer programs in Hasbara…Both are supported by Israeli ministries: the Haifa one by the Ministry of Hasbara…and the Tel Aviv program by the Foreign Ministry.

…The Tel Aviv program seems…secret. I did not find any publications about it, and was only informed of its existence by a source. The plan is called “Ambassador Club,” is intended for foreign students…and consists of seven meetings. All of those meetings, aside from one…are with right-wing and Hasbara people…The “Ambassador club” plan will grant academic [credits] to students…It is also supported by Stand with Us.

Among the guest speakers will be Itamar Marcus, founder of Palestinian Media Watch and a vice president of the Central Fund for Israel, a settler fund that also supports Im Tirzu and Honenu, an NGO that defends Jewish terrorists; IDF spokesflack, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich; and Neil Lazarus, who produced the hoax video claiming gays were booted off the Gaza flotilla.  Finally, Mark Regev, the prime minister’s spokesman to the foreign press will address course participants.

It seems patently obvious to me that this course offering was a direct result of the pressure exerted by IZS to rectify the deficiencies in Zionist thought exposed in the group’s “reports.”  As such, it’s a craven capitulation to forces of intolerance and demagoguery, before which no university should bow.  As Gurvitz writes:

The two universities [Haifa and TAU]…have quietly acquiesced to becoming propaganda arms of the government. In this, they have betrayed their mission. A university is not supposed to sing the praises of its own society; it is supposed to study it…Furthermore, when you lie with dogs…you wake up with fleas: when TAU collaborates with Stand With Us, when it bestows its academic halo over professional fabricators like Lazarus, it invites international boycott. When it approves the teachings of the settler Itamar Marcus, it can no longer say it has no part in the occupation. When it spreads its aegis over Colonel Leibovich…it can no longer claim it is not a part of Israel’s military-media complex.

max singer

Max Singer, visionary of racially pure Jewish state

As Gurvitz correctly notes, these universities have sold out their academic values and prostituted themselves as institutions of higher learning.  They’ve made a bargain with a demagogue-devil, with anti-intellectual outsiders.  Max Singer, IZS, Standwithus and the uber-Zionist thought police have no interest in academic excellence or intellectual inquiry.  They’re business is ideological purity.  It’s more important for them to create a racially pure Jewish state than promote an Israeli educational system that is of the highest quality.

Contrast Tel Aviv’s capitulation to the response of Columbia University when a group of pro-settler alumni and outsiders launched a campaign to deny Nadia Abu El-Haj tenure.  The University treated the tenure-deniers respectfully but ultimately followed academic procedures and determined that she and her work warranted tenure.  They took the heat when it came and treated it as part of the price of running a highly respected academic institution.

A sidebar to this story is the Institute itself, which Didi Remez revealed back in 2010 received $500,000 from the neocon Hudson Institute over a three-year period.  Hudson was founded by the hawkish nuclear strategist, Herman Kahn, and is home to former NY Times reporter Judith Miller.  The funding was half of the group’s entire annual support, making Hudson, IZS’s largest donor.  The key link between the two organizations is Hudson’s founder, Max Singer, who made aliya and became IZS’ research director.  Singer’s wife was a member of IZS’ executive board until 2009.  Singer was one of the key proponents of Iraqi pitchman, Ahmad Chalabi.

Another major IZS American donor is Roger Hartog, who gave $75,000 in 2010.  He is the former owner of the now defunct neocon New York Sun and donated $1-million to the settler group Elad, which is stealing Palestinian land and expelling residents from East Jerusalem.  He similarly gave $1-million to Birthright.

The Institute was founded by settler leader Yisrael Harel, a regular Haaretz columnist.  The current president is Yoel Golobansky, who is also the chairman of NGO Monitor, another far right Israeli group.  Others who’ve taken a leading role in its work and committees constitute the creme de la creme of the Israeli nationalist right: Natan Sharansky, Bogie Yaalon, Michael Oren, and Yaakov Amridor.   Golobansky’s wife was a founder of IZS and serves as a paid advisor to Jewish Agency chair, Natan Sharansky.

Uri Blau wrote recently in Haaretz (Hebrew) that an independent auditor found that both Harel and Golobansky were using IZS credit cards issued to them in ways that violated proper accounting procedures.  For a significant number of the transactions, it could not be ascertained whether the purchases were for organizational or personal purposes.

IZS has a comprehensive legislative lobbying agenda as well.  It has mounted a Knesset campaign to have Hebrew designated as the sole official national language.  This would further isolate both Arabic and Israeli Palestinian citizens from their nation and reinforce IZS’s goal of making Israel a state by and for Jews alone.  Another IZS report noted that Israeli left-wing NGOs offered substantive assistance to international organizations which published reports damaging Israel’s reputation, another absolute no-no among the Israeli patriotic front.  The Israeli groups, IZS claimed, couldn’t have done this without foreign assistance.

The group has called for changes in the ways in which judges are nominated, claiming the current crop of judges doesn’t reflect the character or values of the “Jewish nation” (i.e. they’re too left-wing).  It further notes that such elitism is an affront to the democratic nature of Israel.  In other words, all Israeli judges should look like the governing board of IZS.  Those who don’t must be aliens from another world and as such subject to HAL-type deprogramming.

In other words, IZS is fueling much of the Knesset legislative agenda.  As such, it is a key cog in the putsch by the far-right, whose purpose is to cast its mark indelibly on every national institution from journalism to academe, for generations to come.  And if all of this smacks of the rhetoric of fascism, that’s certainly what it reminded me of when I read it.

Let’s not forget that the financing to create this Israeli Jewish right-wing paradise is coming from our good friends at the Hudson Institute.  Let’s also not forget that IZS, which advocates that allegedly leftist Israeli NGOs be prohibited from receiving foreign financing, receives the lion’s share of its funding from…guess who…a foreign entity (i.e. Hudson).  Is this the pot calling the kettle?

Returning to Max Singer, in this highly revealing 2010 note written for an Israeli academic think tank, he actively calls for Israel to subvert the policy objectives of Pres. Obama:

To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make.

Interesting to note that in 2005-06, Hudson received a $250,000 federal grant.  Yet its founder doesn’t shrink from urging Israel to undermine a key element of the foreign policy of a sitting U.S. president.

IZS’ witch-hunt in Israeli academia seems to be of a piece with Singer’s vision of remaking Israel’s central institutions into ones that are conducive to his hawkish, Jewish-nationalist world-view.  The group is helped in this by its unspoken affiliation with Im Tirzu, another NGO exerting pressure on Israeli universities (in its case, Ben Gurion) for their alleged anti-Israel ideological biases.  Ronen Shoval has publicly denied any connection, but records have shown that he and his underlings attended seminars and workshops held by IZS, where they presumbly honed their pro-Israel organizing chops.

It’s also interesting to note that neither IZS, Im Tirzu or NGO Monitor make any of their donor information public in direct contradiction to legislation all of them are touting, which would force groups like the New Israel Fund to report all foreign donations.  In fact, Blau discovered that NGO Monitor received a $125,000 donation from the Jewish Agency which it hadn’t reported.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Bob Mann March 23, 2012, 4:42 PM

    This is a very long and complicated post. It’s unclear what the takeaway is meant to be. Can you boil it down to a sentence or two?

    • Richard Silverstein March 23, 2012, 6:19 PM

      Sorry, no I can’t.

      • Bob Mann March 23, 2012, 8:14 PM

        I just meant that the post is kind of confusing. Multiple paragraphs with numerous citations and a variety of different groups and names and terminology (including some unfamiliar acronyms/labels).

        It would be really helpful if you could sort of give a concise summary of what it all means. A little “Cliff’s Notes” version would go a long way!

        Thanks in advance.

      • David March 24, 2012, 12:08 AM

        I would be more aroused and upset if the right wing were attempting to legitimize right wing (fascist) views by opening up the universities to all viewpoints and benefiting from propaganda along that line.

        I think it was Lenin who observed that (in the pre-revolutionary Russian state) the “worse it is, the better.” Closing down critical thinking at these universities will give wings to the academic boycott efforts (as you observe)and, at the same time, drive the best and brightest out of Israel for an education. Israel will lose some of its prestige as a thriving intellectual and creative center, which is close to the last shred of decency associated with the state. A handful of settlers and right wing ideologues cannot keep the public imprisoned indefinitely. Unfortunately, a war will delay the dissolution of this fascist Israel.

        There is a new study of the complicity of churches and universities in Nazi Germany with state policies and practices, including the Holocaust. “Complicity in the Holocaust” Robert P. Erickson published by Cambridge University Press. Maybe they should teach Complicity 101 at TAU, as well? Or are such Holocaust studies now “Post Zionist?”

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