Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Law held a conference on January 8 entitled "Security prisoners or political prisoners?" According to the original plan, all the scheduled speakers were from the Left, with some coming from the extreme, anti-Israeli Left. When this triggered an outcry, the faculty heads hurriedly added a couple of speakers representing mainstream Israel and its institutions.
But that changed nothing.
As noted by Ben-Dror Yemini in Ma'ariv, the conference was entirely political in nature, and one particular guest was given an especially warm welcome: Tali Fahima, who was recently released from prison after serving time for aiding Palestinian terrorists.
Yemini compared the Tel Aviv University conference to the Holocaust-denial conference recently held in Teheran: "Hosting those that deny the Zionist enterprise's right to exist in Tel Aviv University is not very different from hosting Holocaust deniers in Teheran University. The pretext of 'academic freedom of speech' is starting to sound increasingly hackneyed and hollow. Not only in Teheran... in Tel Aviv too."
"Scientific" conferences devoid of any balance are not exactly news in Israeli universities. Conferences in the social sciences rarely invite any speakers who represent the mainstream view, the one held by the vast majority of Israel's citizens and Knesset members.
The novelty at the Tel Aviv University conference was its purpose: to present Palestinian terrorists as political prisoners. In order to do so a terrorist who had been sentenced to 27 years in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a bus was invited and given a seat on the podium in the law faculty's Hall of Justice auditorium.
That is new. It goes without saying that it didn't occur to the faculty leaders to invite on the podium, in addition to the terrorist, a victim of the terror that targets Jews because they are Jews; because as we all know, Jews are not entitled to human rights.
THE CONFERENCE had a number of other interesting aspects. An entire session was devoted to the difficulties Palestinian families face when visiting their imprisoned terrorist relatives.
Three abducted Israeli soldiers have been held by terrorists as hostages for over half a year. Not only are their families not permitted to visit them, but, in complete violation of international law, representatives of the Red Cross have not been permitted to meet with them either. No sign of life has been received from the soldiers, turning the lives of their loved ones into a daily hell.
Would the Tel Aviv University Law Faculty be willing to hold a conference spotlighting the violation of Israelis' human rights by Palestinian war criminals? Don't make me laugh.
Yet another aspect of this "scientific" conference: It presented nothing scientific - not a single research paper or academic position. What it did present were political views coming from the extreme leftist camp - all exactly as reported by Ben-Dror Yemini, who was there. Under normal circumstances, a conference of this kind would be held in a political meeting house or beer hall.
What grants this type of gathering the status of "academic freedom?" The fact that it is held in the Law Faculty's auditorium and organized by members of the faculty? Does a university building provide protection for views - racist, fascist, anti-Semitic - that would otherwise be considered unacceptable?
These questions are not academic. This writer has supported and still supports the establishment of an Arab college; he also authorized, in his capacity as education minister, the establishment of two such colleges for the training of teachers.
Would it be acceptable for such an Israeli Arab college to hold a conference of Holocaust deniers, or one on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Or to invite someone who preaches Nazism, simply because it was a conference organized by an academic institution and held inside it? Based on the precedent set by the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University, the answer would have to be yes.
I AM convinced that most of the faculty's lecturers would dissociate themselves from such an outcome. I am also sure that most would distance themselves from identifying with terrorists. Nor do I doubt that the majority of faculty members are loyal to Israel and also serve in the IDF reserves.
What, then, led these people to lend their support to this conference? The answer is that it the dominant fashion in Israeli universities. It's all the rage. To be a post-Zionist is in. And anyone who dares not to follow the fashion is out.
This fact reflects all the more seriously on the organizers of that faculty conference. While one can understand those whose ideological zeal leads them to concede all the academic principles of a balanced scientific debate, there is no forgiveness for those who abandon these assets and bring shame upon their profession merely in order to be fashionable. To lie to oneself simply to gain acceptance among the fashionable anti-Israeli circles is indefensible.
I write these words in anger mixed with pain. I was among the founders of Tel Aviv University's Law Faculty, and its first dean. Among the other founders were the late professors Ze'ev Zeltner and Gualtiero Procaccia, and professors Yoram Dinstein, Daniel Friedman and Uriel Reichman. I am convinced that not one of them could have imagined that the institute they established would sink so low as to invite a terrorist - even one that had served out his term - to speak on the podium in the Hall of Justice. It is a shame and an outrage.
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
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