Is There ‘A Different Israel’?

Is There ‘A Different Israel’?


Durham, NC

In “A Different Israel” [August 5/12] Martha C. Nussbaum wrote that she became relaxed in her “moralistic heart” while accepting an honorary degree from the University of Haifa in May. She indicates she was able to wear the Star of David during the ceremony, while she never does when in her “anti-Zionistic frame of mind.” The University of Chicago professor of ethics and law says her relaxation resulted from the peaceful cooperation in Haifa among Israelis and Arabs. The reason given for accepting the degree was to oppose the “ugly campaign” among academics to boycott Israeli universities.

One should distinguish between relaxation and anesthesia! Perhaps if Nussbaum had gone to Ramallah instead of Haifa, as an acquaintance of mine did recently, her “moralistic heart” would have remained awake. As Nussbaum did, my acquaintance is converting to the Jewish faith of her father and of her husband. Unlike Nussbaum, having seen the Star of David used by occupation troops as a graffiti symbol of hatred and humiliation, she does not feel comfortable wearing hers. Perhaps in Ramallah the campaign to boycott would not have looked quite so ugly.


Haifa, Israel

In Haifa University Martha C. Nussbaum found another Israel. But her praise for the university as a symbol of coexistence and peace belies the dismal reality of that campus, which does not (according to one of the many fallacies in her article) have “many Arab faculty members” but only six, out of 600. Her stress on the Arab-Jewish nature of the campus is particularly annoying, as Haifa University has been singled out in the past two years for its harsh and oppressive treatment of Arab students.

There is a university other than the one Nussbaum described after she received a precious prize there. I have been in the university since 1984, and I think what Nussbaum describes is more in line with the aspirations we had back then but has very little to do with the realities on campus today.

Haifa University nowadays is an institution that tried to expel me in May because of my claims that Israel committed an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the 1948 war–a claim that contradicts the Zionist narrative of that year. I have been prosecuted, and my tenure nearly annulled, for my support of an MA student who was disqualified for his revelation of an unknown massacre perpetrated by the IDF in the village of Tantura in 1948. Had it not been for overwhelming international pressure exerted on this “peace-loving” university, I would have been out of a job.

This university has silenced its Arab students. They are barred from any political activity on campus, while the Jewish union can openly preach its Zionist ideology. Arab students are discriminated against in accommodations and scholarship policies, and their basic rights as a national group totally denied.

It is hard enough to watch helplessly the demise of pluralism and free speech in Israel in general and at Haifa University in particular. It is worse when it is supplemented by embarrassingly pro-Israeli stances in the United States that either fail to see reality or, worse, are knowingly serving the present Israeli regime and its evil policies.


New York City

I agree with Martha Nussbaum about a “different Israel.” I was invited to give a lecture in June at Ben Gurion University, where progressive, liberal and left scholars, activists and professional community workers in and outside national and local government were discussing ways to build a more just, peaceful and secure society in Israel.

I also met with ninety community organizers from Shatil, an independent, foundation-funded organization. For more than twenty years Shatil has worked in almost every distressed community in Israel and with its most excluded population groups. It has Israeli-Palestinian Arab, Bedouin and Druze staff, and Jews from many origins and cultures. They are engaged in coalition-building around the environment, intergroup relations, poverty, health, housing, education and welfare, and social insurance. With the informal support of some government planners, it is organizing an antipoverty movement, because the government is cutting back on the amount of social allowances and healthcare.

What was devastating to these articulate and involved progressive people was the sense of hopelessness about the larger political and military picture that surrounds them. They see no peacemakers on the horizon. They view Sharon and Arafat as warmongers and can’t identify a single leader on either side who could shift the kaleidoscope toward peace and security.

They were buoyed momentarily in June because for the first time a group of Palestinian scholars, activists and poets wrote an open letter in Arabic to their leaders calling for an end to suicide bombings and for negotiations. Just as many of us here are working hard to improve the quality of life and conditions for people in this country despite Bush Administration policies, so are many Israelis. There is another Israel, and it must be seen.




Claiborne Clark’s odd logic holds that if a nation is doing anything bad, there cannot possibly be any good in it. This demonization of an entire people is just the sort of nonthinking that produces ethnic violence all over the world; it is all too common between Palestinians and Israelis. To counter this pernicious tendency, we need to find examples that show that cooperation is possible and that peace and justice are not impossibly utopian aspirations. I therefore welcome Terry Mizrahi’s letter and agree with everything it says. I can add that the group of Palestinians whose letter opposing suicide bombings has by now been widely published is headed by Sari Nusseibeh, a courageous politician, philosopher and university administrator who is one of the best hopes for responsible leadership on the Palestinian side. Nusseibeh is so far from supporting the boycott of Israeli scholars that he has written books with some, and he makes a point of speaking at international conferences that include Israeli speakers. When in the United States, he insists on addressing both Arab and Jewish audiences.

Clark also gives an inaccurate impression of my article. I said that I decided to accept the honorary degree both as a statement of opposition to the boycott of Israeli scholars and as an opportunity to make a public statement about issues of global justice that have implications for the just solution to the conflict. As I recorded, I was encouraged to make such a speech and did so. (My position is roughly that of Amram Mitzna, mayor of Haifa and candidate for leadership of the Labor Party, who favors immediate resumption of negotiations, eventual evacuation of the settlements and a partition of Jerusalem.) I can now add that the identity of other recipients of honorary degrees at the ceremony, including Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party foreign minister, encouraged me to believe that this ceremony was a celebration of dissent and the search for justice. What surprised me was that I found in Haifa an entire city that makes peaceful cooperation and the search for a just solution a way of life, that understands Zionism as I do, as a moral commitment, not a commitment to nationalistic triumph. No moral commitment is without struggle, since we live in an imperfect human world. But it seems right to focus on reasons for hope at a time when too many are losing hope.

I had not heard of Ilan Pappé before I went to Haifa, and I am not in a position to speak about his grievances against the university. I therefore prefer to cite an official statement by the university, responding to his letter:

“During the course of the past years Dr. Pappé has waged a puzzling and eccentric one-man campaign to defame his colleagues and the University of Haifa. The university has reacted with great patience to his curious and unethical behavior as the issue of academic freedom and freedom of speech is of great concern to us. Dr. Pappé’s letter is predictably and consistently inaccurate. Here we will address only the most conspicuous nonissues raised in his letter.

“1. Contrary to his claims that there are only six Arab lecturers at the University of Haifa, there are in fact sixty-two, nineteen of them in tenure-track positions. This modest number is constantly rising. Moreover, there are more Arab faculty members at the University of Haifa than at any other Israeli university.

“2. The University of Haifa is proud of its efforts in recruiting Arab students and offering them a wide range of affirmative-action programs. The Arab students are, themselves, aware of these programs and, as such, tend to choose Haifa over other colleges and universities in the country. In fact about 18 percent of our student body are members of Israel’s Arab community. No other university in the country has such a large percentage of minority students.

“3. We are dismayed by Dr. Pappé’s bewildering claim that Arab students have been barred from political activity while their Jewish peers preach Zionist ideology with impunity. Nothing can be further from the truth. Despite the impossible situation of daily life in Israel and the tense, close encounters between Jews and Arabs on campus, we have upheld a brave policy of full and uncensored freedom of expression. Our only limitations were short and limited moratoriums on demonstrations during exceptional periods (when, for example, some of our students were killed in terrorist attacks). These limitations applied to Jews and Arabs alike. Moreover, even during the most stressful times, we did not limit other features of free speech (fliers, information booths, political assemblies, etc.).

“4. Dr. Pappé’s assertion that Arab students suffer discrimination in student housing is a mystery. During the course of the academic year 2001-2, the percentage of Arab students in our dorms reached 30 percent, while the percentage of Arab students at the university is about 18 percent.

“5. Contrary to his claims, the university made no attempt to expel Dr. Pappé. One of his colleagues did indeed lodge a complaint with the internal faculty disciplinary committee. The complaint focused on Dr. Pappé’s unethical efforts to disbar his colleagues from international forums for daring to contradict his views. The complaint had nothing to do with his political views, which are shared by other members of the campus community. Moreover, Dr. Pappé has omitted the important fact that he was never summoned by the disciplinary committee, as the committee’s chairperson decided not to pursue the complaint in its present form.

“6. As for the MA thesis mentioned by Dr. Pappé, the claims in this study were the subject of a court case, during the course of which the student-author of the paper tendered a court-sanctioned, written apology for misrepresentations. Following the court settlement, the student was offered the opportunity to revise his MA thesis.

“In sum, Dr. Pappé does not appear to be concerned to give readers of The Nation a full and accurate account of the facts. Needless to say, despite his odd and unethical behavior, we shall continue to invest efforts and resources for securing our island of sanity in this troubled region.
   –University of Haifa”


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