The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is facing resistance from some of its faculty for the decision to allow 150 soldiers who will be part of a training program for the IDF to be included in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
Dr. Liat Kozma – director of Hebrew University’s Nehemia Levtzion Center for Islamic Studies – in a post on her Facebook page, criticized the decision and wrote that soldiers in uniforms will “harm teaching and research.”
Kozma’s post contradicted the university’s assurance that the decision won’t impact the curriculum, writing that “Who is ready to study with us, who will sit in our classrooms and what people will feel free to say or not feel free to say – will be impacted significantly.”
Kozma, in the post which she has since deleted, added that “I’m thinking about our Palestinian students, but not only. To study the history of the Middle East in a mixed classroom with soldiers and civilians significantly harms what can or cannot be said.”
She also feared the soldiers’ presence would hurt the department’s research legitimacy because the soldiers would make up 40% of the students in the department and turn it into an “army department.”
Another lecturer, Dr. Abigail Jacobson, commented that the move would also hurt the dynamic between Israeli and Palestinian students, which she said is “delicate and fragile,” especially in a department that touches on the conflict.
“Think about what the presence of so many soldiers in uniform in the classroom – and then in the dorms – will do to the feeling of security of these students,” Jacobson added.
Hebrew University rector, Prof. Barak Medina – in an interview with KAN Reshet Bet radio on Thursday – repudiated the criticism, saying that “There is certainly a challenge to face here, but there is no doubt we should enable this.”
Medina said that the opposition to the program came from a small minority of staff members, and that it was a mistake to speak in the name of Arab students or their position on the issue.
He added that the meeting actually posed an opportunity to create dialogue between Arab students and soldiers.
“Some are bothered by it, some don’t care and some actually are happy for the opportunity to meet the soldiers when they aren’t in a position of authority,” he said.
Medina said that the university will ensure that the undertaking will be successful and meaningful for all sides.
Matan Peleg – CEO of the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, which brought the professors' comments to light – said: “It is inconceivable how every few months there is another story about Hebrew University professors who are bothered by IDF soldiers. This antagonism against our soldiers needs to stop.
“The university’s administration needs to conduct a serious examination of its professors,” he added.
In January, Dr. Carola Hilfrich – a lecturer at the university – criticized a student for coming to class in uniform, after an argument broke out between the soldier and an Arab student.
“You cannot be naïve and ask to be treated as a civilian when you are in uniform,” Hilfrich told the soldier after class. “You are a soldier in the Israeli army, and they will treat you accordingly.”
The student union protested, which led Hilfrich to later apologize.