US student Lara Alqasem appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel October 11, 2018.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN)
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem crossed a red line last week after it joined the judicial appeal against the government’s decision to bar anti-Israel student activist Lara Alqasem from entering the country.
Alqasem, former president of the virulently anti-Israel and pro-BDS “Students for Justice in Palestine” group, was slated to begin a master’s degree at Hebrew University but was forbidden to enter the country in accordance with the 2017 law barring entry to BDS activists.
The fact that Hebrew University, which receives millions of shekels in government funding, is actively engaging in a legal battle on behalf of Alqasem is very troubling. This is not only a gross misuse of public funds, but a betrayal of the university’s student body that strives to achieve a higher education and not to be part of an institution seeking to promote a political agenda.
While the university’s decision to proactively engage in a legal battle on behalf of an anti-Israel activist with ties to BDS might be puzzling to some, it should come as no surprise given the university’s allowance for anti-Israel activity to fester on its campus.
Students at Hebrew University freely hold inciting protests on campus calling for “intifada,” praising “shahids,” and vowing to “continue the struggle.” The most recent of these expressions of “free speech,” as labeled by the university, occurred mere months ago following the US Embassy move to Jerusalem.
Later this month the university’s law faculty is kicking off the year with a highly politicized conference titled, “Life Under Occupation,” which will showcase university’s diversity by featuring a long lineup of far-left speakers.
The speakers include three writers for Haaretz, two New Israel Fund public council members, a staff member of the terrorist-defending NGO Adalah, the CEO of the far-left NGO Ir Amim, a founding member of B’Tselem, and several left-wing professors.
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Last year the university organized a conference featuring representatives from “Coalition of Women for Peace,” a far-left NGO that promotes the BDS movement.
Several months prior, one of the university’s professors compared Israel to Nazi Germany in class, stating it is a “fact.” Instead of seizing the opportunity to speak out against academic politicization, the university criticized the student who made the professor’s statement public.
The university’s unwillingness to curb anti-Zionist activity within its grounds creates an atmosphere in which students regularly disregard the instructions of security personnel with impunity.
In December of last year, one student even physically assaulted a security guard after the guard tried to break up a scuffle that arose after Arab students desecrated a memorial erected for murdered IDF soldier Ron Kokia. The student has yet to face any punitive consequences from the university.
With this lack of accountability, it is hardly surprising that there have been three instances over the past 18 months in which swastikas were spray-painted on campus grounds.
The unfortunate reality is that for Hebrew University, freedom of expression and pluralism are ideas reserved only for the Left side of the political spectrum.
The exchange of ideas and freedom of speech are crucial tenets to a thriving society and higher education, but this does not give a publicly funded university the mandate to promote only one side of the debate. That is not academic freedom; it is forced indoctrination.
If the situation were reversed and an extreme right-wing student was prevented from entering the country to study at the university, the safe bet is that the university would do absolutely nothing.
Instead of rushing to defend BDS supporters, it would behoove the university to crack down on politicization and inciting anti-Zionist activity on its campus.
That is what the student body needs – not to have resources earmarked for its education be squandered on someone who opposes Israel’s right to exist.
The writer is the director of external relations and development for Im Tirtzu.
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