Germany: Israeli academic reinstated after 'Post' query

Decision comes after Mideast organization expels Iran expert over ties to Ariel settlement; Jewish community, German scholars slam boycott.

Ariel 521 (photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
Ariel 521
(photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
BERLIN – An Israeli academic was reinstated on Wednesday as a speaker at a conference slated for next month, after inquiries by The Jerusalem Post.
Dr. Ronen A. Cohen had been expelled from the conference because his affiliation with the Ariel University Center of Samaria.
Cohen received an e-mail on Wednesday informing him that the organizers of the 18th International Congress of The German Middle East Studies Association for Contemporary Research and Documentation (DAVO) in Berlin on October 6-8 had “accepted the argument that academic freedom should have priority in comparison to considerations of international law.”
Over the weekend, Cohen, an expert on modern Iran, had received an e-mail banning him from participation in the conference. “It is not acceptable that a representative of an illegally established Israeli university in the occupied territories is participating in this conference,” wrote Dr. Günter Meyer, who chairs DAVO.
“The settlement of Ariel represents a clear violation of international law. This cannot be tolerated by DAVO,” Meyer wrote.
Cohen is scheduled to speak on “The Iranian Hojjatiyeh – an Anti-Baha’i Sect – The Real Followers of the Mahdi.”
“I represent myself. I am not going there to give a talk about Ariel, about the territories or the Israel-Palestinian situation,” Cohen, who is presently in Israel, told the Post by telephone. It is “unfair to mix politics with the academy,” he said. I want to “present my research.”
Once, when there was an attempt to exclude him from delivering a paper in Los Angeles, defenders of academic freedom resisted the boycott effort.
“In Europe it is different,” said Cohen.
After DAVO rescinded its boycott measure on Wednesday, Cohen told the Post, “I’m happy for this change in their attitude and for their commitment to academic freedom; the issue should never have arisen at all. DAVO is a respected academic organization affiliated with a distinguished university and should be committed to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”
He continued, “I do plan to attend this conference, since I will be going in order to present my new research on ‘The Iranian Hojjatiyeh – The Real Followers of the Mahdi,’ and not to deal with political issues. I believe that this revised attitude of DAVO will contribute to a more interesting and intellectually challenging conference, to the exchange of knowledge and to academic collegiality.”
The e-mail expelling Cohen from the DAVO event had unleashed a storm of criticism from Israel’s embassy in Berlin, the city’s Jewish community, the University of Mainz and German academics.
The embassy “strongly opposes the boycott of an Israeli researcher based on his academic affiliation. Such a boycott does not contribute to academic freedom,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission.
Dr. Peter Waldmann, who heads the Jewish community in Rhineland-Palatinate state, where Mainz and DAVO are located, compared Meyer’s actions with when the Nazis expelled Jews from the universities in the 1930s.
He said Meyer was an anti-Zionist who applied a double standard by inviting professors from the Arab world to DAVO conferences even though they are from countries that violate human rights.
The local Jewish community finds Meyer’s decision to be “extraordinarily problematic, a political catastrophe, and very, very bad,” Waldmann said.
Meyer told the Post, “As stressed before, DAVO expelled Mr. Cohen on the basis of international law. This has nothing to do with modern anti-Semitism because scholars from Israel – with the exception of universities in the occupied territories – are welcome.”
Meyer could not cite any academics with the exception of Israelis who have been expelled over the years from DAVO events.
“As chairman of the Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), I expected the decision of the organizing General Secretariat of WOCMES-2 in Amman 2007 to exclude two scholars from Ariel and informed them accordingly,” he said.
After the Post contacted the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, where Meyer works, it deleted the DAVO website from the university server, according to a spokeswoman.
The university administration told the Post that the school “strictly rejects all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. We regret that Dr. Cohen was not invited to speak.” Meyer “is as active as a private person for DAVO, and not in his academic post as a professor at JGU [the school],” and “DAVO is not an institution or institute of the JGU and we did not have any knowledge that DAVO was listed on the university’s server.”
Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a political scientist in Hamburg and leading expert on German-Iranian relations, told the Post on Tuesday, “A publicly funded academic association such as DAVO should, in view of the historical experience in Germany, be the first to distance itself from all boycott measures against Israeli academics.”
He continued, “It is totally unacceptable that DAVO will therefore not allow an academic to speak at its planned congress because he teaches as an Israeli citizen at Ariel university.”
Küntzel added that “Israel cannot be made responsible for the fact that the international legal status of the West Bank remains in dispute.
“The educational opportunities are offered not only to Israeli Jews but to hundreds of Israeli Arabs, which is one of the few rays of hope in the Middle East,” he said Küntzel called on DAVO to rescind its “unspeakable” decision and to allow Cohen to speak at the congress.
Dr. Clemens Heni, an expert on modern anti-Semitism and Islam in the Federal Republic, told the Post that dis-inviting “an Israeli scholar from Ariel University is outrageous and unacceptable, though a typical action taken by German scholars in the field of Islam and Middle Eastern Studies.
The city of Ariel is in the disputed territories. Obviously DAVO does not like Jews living in the so-called West Bank, which in fact is the land of Samaria (like the city of Ariel), a land where Jews lived for thousands of years.”
Heni said his new book, Schadenfreude: Islamic Studies and Antisemitism in Germany after 9/11, addresses DAVO. He noted that the upcoming DAVO congress does not offer “a single lecture or workshop on Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism.”
He sees the boycott of Ariel University by DAVO and Meyer as “part of the worldwide anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign.”
Heni and Küntzel are both members of the German section of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).
Dr. Elvira Grözinger, who along with Küntzel is a founding member of SPME, told the Post on Wednesday that Meyer should resign.
“He is no longer acceptable because he defended a boycott and is not neutral,” said Grözinger. “He is not an honest academic, and we are for academic integrity. Meyer’s behavior does not conform to academic integrity.”
Meyer told the Post he had received “dozens of e-mails from Israel ranging from ‘You are an anti-Semite’ to ‘You are worse than Hitler.”’
There were numerous e-mails from Israeli that demanded the reversal of the decision and which were mainly based on Zionist arguments related to the status of Ariel. But these arguments did not affect the decision-making process,” he said.
“We came to the conclusion that Dr. Cohen is welcome as independent Israeli scholar. This means that Ariel will not be mentioned in the Congress program, because DAVO considers Ariel as an illegal settlement that contravenes international law and the Geneva Convention,” Meyer said.