Israeli student defeats academic bias at UK university

After Israeli student Smadar Bakovic received a low mark from an renowned anti-Israel academic on her dissertation, she petitioned the grade.

Smadar Bakovic (photo credit: Courtesy)
Smadar Bakovic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The term “anti-Semitism” is of relatively modern origins, having been coined in 1879 by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr. But it describes man’s oldest hatred, and the phenomenon is back on the rise again, especially in Europe.
According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a new generation of Israel-haters is currently being bred in Europe. In Norway, 33 percent of Jewish students are subjected to recurring anti-Semitism, which has led to a fear of openly showing their Jewish identity.
According to Prof. Robert Wistrich, an expert on anti-Semitism, many anti- Israel groups at British universities depict the Jewish state as the embodiment of evil. “Israel is viewed as an apartheid state in several European countries, but the hostility in the UK is more intense and hard to contain,” he recently noted.
Smadar Bakovic, a young Israeli from a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, has experienced this hostility in a very personal way while completing a degree at the University of Warwick, in central England. In 2009, Smadar was granted a scholarship to the school and left to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. But during her time in Britain, she encountered repeated incidents of anti-Semitism on the university campus.
When the university attempted to twin with the Islamic University of Gaza, she got involved in a campaign opposing the move, and the anti-Jew hatred came to the fore.
“It was a very tough time, and I felt emotionally intimidated by some of the things that were going on,” she recently told The Christian Edition.
Then, as Smadar started to prepare for her dissertation on the identity of Israeli Arabs, she was assigned to a renowned British anti-Israel academic, Prof. Nicola Pratt.
“When I got the e-mail telling me that Nicola Pratt would be my supervisor, I was in shock, as I knew that she was signing petitions supporting boycotts of Israel, and referring to Israel as an apartheid state that was committing ethnic cleansing,” she said. “The first thing I thought to myself was that someone who sees Israel as the epiphany of evil surely cannot be objective on an issue that relates to Israel.”
Smadar quickly requested a different supervisor, but her request was turned down on the basis that Pratt was professional, highly trained and therefore fully capable of being objective.
So Smadar had no choice but to continue under Pratt.
“I knew that I had written something good, and after a few months I got the results,” she recalled.
Smadar was very disappointed with her mark and decided to register a complaint to have her dissertation reassessed, a process that would drag out for more than a year. In June 2011, the complaints committee finally recommended that the dissertation could be remarked.
Six months later, Smadar finally received a much better grade with distinction.
“I feel that I have been fighting this past year not only for me, but for Israel and the Jewish people and for all other people around the world who have been discriminated against,” she explained. “I suffered, but I want the world to know that it is possible to fight against racism.”
One of Smadar’s many moral supporters during her long ordeal was prominent American Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who recently told The Christian Edition that what made her case so unusual was her courage and persistence.
“More students should follow her lead,” advised Dershowitz. “I’ve heard many accounts of anti-Israel professors grading down pro-Israel students. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t limited to the UK. It also exists across US universities, and probably also at Ben- Gurion’s political science department.”
Since receiving her final results, Smadar has launched a Facebook petition calling for Pratt to be dismissed by the University of Warwick for bias. “There must be zero tolerance for bigoted academics,” her campaign page states.