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MAYA WIND’S TOWERS OF MANIPULATIONS

Barak Medina

Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Maya Wind’s book, Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom, was recently published by Verso. To the credit of the author, it does not hide its explicit agenda. The book was written, the author acknowledges, “in response to a call from Palestinian civil society” (p. 205) and “in service of the movements that seek to dismantle” what Wind refers to as “the [Israeli] system of violence” (p. 208). The book aims to support this cause by encouraging a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academia. It presents anecdotal examples of activities and policies that, according to the author, demonstrate the Israeli academia’s complicity with wrongs committed by the Israeli government.

Given the political motivation behind this project, which is driven by animosity and prejudice towards Zionism and the Jewish State, it is unsurprising that the book fails to meet basic academic standards. As discussed below, Wind’s book is flawed in three main aspects: (1) the book’s underlying assumptions about Israel; (2) the idea that an academic boycott is the right approach to induce the Israeli government to change course; and (3) the specific arguments used to illustrate the claim that Israeli academia is complicit in the government’s actions.

Before addressing these three aspects, I must disclose my personal interest. I am an Israeli and a faculty member at the Law Faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Between 2017 and 2022, I served as the Rector (provost) of the Hebrew University, and the book criticizes several policies that I helped advance. Needless to say, Wind did not consult with me or, it seems, with any other current or past administrator of the Israeli universities she criticizes, to hear their perspectives or engage with counterarguments. Given my role in Israeli academia, my analysis may not be impartial, but I did my best to present as accurate and unbiased evaluation of the relevant issues. I hope that my perspective at least merits consideration.

 

1. The Book’s Underlying Assumption: Israel is Immoral and should be Dismantled

As indicated, the book is built on the premise that the State of Israel is nothing but “a system of violence,” which should be recognized as a form of “settler colonialism” (p. 12), and thus that Israel should be dismantled. Wind not only suggests that Israelis should join “the struggle for Palestinian liberation” (p. 16), but even refers to the place where parts of the book were written, probably the State of Israel (not the West Bank!), as “the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (p. 208), and to the Israeli Arab-Palestinian citizens “’occupied citizens’ in the Israeli state” (p. 118).

The relevant issues—whether Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state is justified, and if not, what remedy is appropriate—are highly disputed. However, the author seems to assume otherwise. She treats her extremely radical assumptions as if they were self-evident. Accordingly, Wind completely ignores basic relevant historical and normative aspects. For instance, she provides a partial and hence misleading description of the background to Israel’s foundation, arguing succinctly that “Israel was established [in 1948] through the forcible displacing of over two-thirds of the Palestinian population, in what is called the Nakba” (p. 117). Wind deliberately fails to mention the relevant facts, namely that in 1947, a UN committee, which conducted a thorough investigation, has recommended that two states, one Jewish and one Arab, should be established between the River and the Sea, a recommendation that was adopted by the UN General Assembly’s Plan of Partition; and that whereas the Jewish community accepted this plan, the Palestinians not only rejected it but launched a civil war, aimed at eliminating the Jewish presence in the area, a war that resulted in many Palestinians displaced.

Wind strongly opposes the idea of a Jewish and democratic state, neglecting to offer any argument why only the Palestinian people are entitled to the collective right to self-determination but not the Jewish people. The book does not offer a systematic evaluation of Israel’s various policies, but simply assumes that Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state, does not have a right to exist. It is an approach that cannot be justified. An evaluation of the State of Israel’s activities and policies, and clearly its right to exist, must be based on a careful analysis of Israel’s constitutional identity, exploring where it meets the requirements of a liberal democracy and where it fails. None of this is offered in this book.

It is telling that Wind chooses to ignore the distinction between the West Bank, which is an occupied territory, and the State of Israel. She does so by classifying Israel as a “settler colonial” project, referring to the entire area as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and calling for the “decolonization” of the State of Israel. This approach assumes that a Jewish state should be dismantled, regardless of its policies. Accordingly, the book also assumes, again without argumentation, that the Israeli army (IDF) is evil, and it is inherently impermissible to cooperate with it, as it exclusively serves to deny the rights of Palestinians. Wind thus ignores the fact that the IDF and other Israeli security agencies are critical for protecting the lives of all Israeli citizens, Jews and Arab-Palestinians alike, as was tragically demonstrated in the horrific October 7th massacre conducted by Hamas.

This review is not the place to debate this set of assumptions, which suggests that Israel is immoral and does not have the right to exist. My main point here is a caveat lector: let the reader of this book beware that the entire project is founded on the premise that Israel should be dismantled, regardless of its policies and without a distinction between the state itself and its occupation in the West Bank. One who accepts this book as the basis for boycotting Israeli academia inevitably accepts its underlying assumption that the Israeli government in general and the IDF in particular are forms of absolute wickedness. One may, of course, refer to other justifications for boycotting Israel, and I’ll say more about this below. But the point is that this book does not offer such justifications, other than the assumption that Israel is sinful. Hence the call for the decent reader to be cautious not to give up their intellectual integrity as Wind did in this book.

 

2. Academic Boycott of Israel as a Means to Achieve Just Goals

Wind aims to justify a complete academic boycott against Israeli institutions. The expected consequences of such a boycott are clear: Israeli academia, ranked internationally in the top 5 per capita and around the top 15 in absolute terms, would suffer. Many Israeli scholars would seek opportunities abroad, leading to a brain drain and a decline in the quality of higher education. Wind can be read as providing two types of justifications for this outcome.

One justification was already mentioned above. Wind assumes that the State of Israel is irreparably immoral, and given that an academic boycott would substantially weaken Israel economically, culturally, demographically, and militarily, it is justified since it will contribute to the aim of eradicating the state. For those who believe in Israel’s right to exist, this approach is obviously unacceptable.

A more plausible argument assumes that Israel is not a lost cause, and the aim of the boycott is to push Israel to act more justly towards the Palestinians. According to Wind, Israeli universities fail to properly criticize government policies, and are even “implicated in the systemic violation of Palestinian rights and academic freedom” (p. 11). Thus, the boycott aims to hold Israeli academia accountable, and encourage it to influence government policies: “The movement for the academic boycott calls on the international academic community to guide Israeli universities to take […] steps toward decolonization” (p.197). Replacing the term “decolonization,” which stands for dismantling Israel as a Jewish and democratic State, with promoting greater respect for human rights, this justification is valid in principle. Israel should be criticized for its human rights record and its current government’s refusal to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the State of Israel, subject to proper security arrangements, and universities can play a role in rectifying these state policies. The key question, however, is not in the abstract but in the concrete: Do Israeli universities act the way Wind argues, namely they are complicit in the systemic violation of Palestinian rights, or do they play in fact the opposite role, of enhancing equality and tolerance, and providing vital critical assessment of government policies.

Put differently, the issue is to what extent an academic boycott serves the goal of promoting peace and justice in the Middle East. An effective academic boycott could lead to two possible outcomes: First, it might incentivize Israeli scholars and institutions to do more for peace, if not for intrinsic reasons, at least in order to avoid international boycott. Second, it could result in a brain drain that would substantially weaken Israeli academia. The first outcome is possible but highly improbable. People rarely change their political views, especially on issues of their own survival, for instrumental reasons. Moreover, efforts towards liberalism and peace might prove futile, as demonstrated by Wind’s book, which carefully omits any reference to the activities of Israeli institutions and individuals promoting equality, tolerance, and peace. The more likely outcome is the latter. Cutting-edge science, especially in a small country like Israel, requires international collaboration and exchange programs. Without these, leading scholars will leave Israel. The success of Israeli academia in maintaining its independence from government and public pressure critically depends on its international standing. Academic success is essential for obtaining research grants and gifts that are independent of government funding, and maintaining the prominent social position of Israeli academia is crucial for its independence.

Therefore, the main question to ask is this: Given that the boycott is almost certain to substantially weaken Israeli academia, would this outcome enhance or harm the struggle for peace? As indicated, the required assessment is whether Israeli universities and individual scholars contribute to equality, tolerance, and peace, or to discrimination, hatred, and war.

Answering this question, which is vital to determine whether an academic boycott is justified, requires a detailed account of the policies of Israeli universities. Unfortunately, this issue is entirely absent from Wind’s book. Instead of offering a systematic analysis of policies, their development over time, and their successes and failures, Wind presents a set of biased anecdotes aimed at illustrating her predisposition. The problem is not only that the stories presented are mostly false or inaccurate, as discussed in section 3 below, but that the book does not even attempt to provide a comprehensive, nuanced view of the political role of Israeli academia. It conflates different periods, individual scholars’ activities (sometimes done as private individuals, not as part of their academic roles) and institutional actions, and it labels any collaboration with the government as inherently wrong, regardless of its purposes and results.

Again, this failure of the book is not surprising given its agenda, namely to serve the cause of the boycott against Israel, regardless of the actual role of Israeli academia. Readers committed to rational, meaningful contemplation of this issue will have to seek answers in the numerous books and articles dedicated to this task. For instance, scholars at the Hebrew University have written, without any institutional scrutiny, a five-volume, thousands-of-pages-long treatise on the history of the Hebrew University (the fifth volume was recently published). This work provides a nuanced critical evaluation of the university’s role over the years, including its complicated relations with the Zionist Movement before the State of Israel was founded and with the government and society after the state was established. As expected, the picture is mixed, with numerous historical, sociological, and ethical insights. None of these studies is discussed in Wind’s book.

A comprehensive analysis of the political and sociological role of Israeli universities over the years is beyond the scope of this review. My comments below are not aimed at proving that Israeli academia should not be criticized—far from it. In my own writings and public activity, I have offered quite harsh critiques of what I view as the insufficient actions of Israeli universities in response to the various political crises in Israel. I also believe that the share of Arab-Palestinian faculty members in Israeli universities, about 3%, is too low. But my aim here is more modest: to demonstrate that Wind’s depiction of Israeli academia as “complicit” is false. I briefly discuss three aspects of the political and social role of Israeli academia.

a) One aspect is the role of researchers as individuals. Academic freedom is strictly protected in Israel. Scholars are not only completely free from institutional and governmental interference in their research and teaching, but they are also encouraged to be involved in public discourse. Israeli academic scholars are at the forefront of the campaign to save Israeli democracy and ensure that the government obeys international laws. Faculty members and students were effective in the campaign against the government’s 2023 plan for judicial overhaul. These same individuals currently lead mass demonstrations against the Israeli government’s policy regarding the war in Gaza, calling for a ceasefire and the resignation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Indeed, faculty and students are often harshly critical of governmental policies, both as scholars and public intellectuals.

In Chapter 4 of the book, Wind questions this premise, suggesting that “Israeli universities systematically disallow critical academic research, teaching, and discussion of Israeli settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid” (p. 118). This accusation is far from the truth. There isn’t a single case in which a university’s administration “disallowed” any academic research, and it obviously does not do so “systematically.” In practice, academic scholars, Jews and Palestinians alike, offer very critical research of all aspects of life in Israel, including claims about settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid. Wind mentions in this regard an incident at the Hebrew University, in which a faculty member made an argument about the effect of a student’s wearing military uniform on class discussions, which resulted, according to Wind, by a “swift and decisive” response by the Hebrew University (p. 125). In reality, the administration did not take any measures against the said faculty member, whose academic freedom has been fully secured. Wind suggests in this respect that the Hebrew University has added in 2019 a right-wing organization to the list of recognized entities whose volunteer work can earn university credit, insinuating that the university supports this group’s ideology and activities (p. 126). In fact, the university awarded credits to students working with any NGO, without screening its activities, and in the following year, and consistently since then, the university does not recognize activity in political NGO’s, including the one that Wind refers to.

b) A second element is the role of academic institutions. While Israeli academia is largely funded by the government, it operates completely independently. It maintains autonomy in all academic matters, from admissions policy to pedagogical decisions, and often takes critical positions regarding government policies. Here are three recent examples from the Hebrew University, which, given their extensive coverage in local and international media, one might speculate were intentionally omitted from Wind’s book. One example is the 2018 incident in which Hebrew University successfully campaigned to invalidate the government’s decision to deny entry to a prospective American student of Palestinian descent, based on her past support of the BDS movement. The university’s administration withstood harsh criticism from the Israeli government and public opinion, and was pivotal in convincing the Supreme Court to invalidate the government’s decision. Another example refers to the university’s successful 2023 campaign against the Israeli government’s attempt to close a program offering Palestinians from East Jerusalem a one-year, free-of-charge preparatory program for academic studies. Thirdly, in 2022, the Hebrew University Senate, with the administration’s consent, issued a statement on the urgency of protecting the academic freedom of Palestinian universities in the West Bank. This decision called for the Israeli government to amend its policy to ensure that Israeli authorities do not interfere with Palestinian universities’ decisions about guest scholars and fields of study. This call also resulted in a positive change in government policy. Here too, Wind’s (mostly justified) criticism of the Israeli government’s policy toward Palestinian universities, detailed in chapter 6 of her book, should not be directed at the Israeli universities. Moreover, the Palestinian universities are the ones that sever their academic collaborations with their Israeli counterparts, who are still eager to resume mutual cooperation.

A final example of the Israeli university independence is mentioned in Wind’s book (p. 127). In 2017 the Council of Higher Education (CHE) considered requiring the universities to draft a code of ethics for faculty members, a decision that if adopted would substantially curtail academic freedom. It was only thanks to a decisive campaign of the universities’ Presidents that the CHE opted for a call to the institutions to voluntarily adopt the code, and at least some if not all universities rejected this advice. The universities adopted a very tolerant policy, as is demonstrated, for instance, by the Hebrew University’s 2023 guidelines.

c) A third issue is the role of Israeli university campuses in fostering free speech and encouraging meaningful engagement between Jews and Arab-Palestinians. About 18% of students at Israeli universities are Arab-Palestinians. This reflects an institutional commitment to equality, recognizing higher education as a vehicle for social mobility. Universities work hard to nurture multicultural campuses. They take seriously their responsibility to create an environment where the university period can be the first opportunity for meaningful, positive interaction between Jews and Arabs. All universities operate units of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, that work to recruit diverse faculty members and students and create a welcoming atmosphere for meaningful cross-cultural and political social interactions. Muslim prayer spaces are provided across campuses.

Wind argues, in chapter 5 of her book, that the Israeli universities discriminate against Israeli Arab-Palestinians in their admission policies and impose restrictions on speech. Both accusations are unfounded. Admission policies in Israel are subject to strict laws which absolutely prohibit any form of discrimination against minorities. In almost all fields of study, other than only health studies such as medicine, admission is based exclusively on students’ grades, without any subjective discretion. No cap, formal or informal, on the number of Arab students is imposed, and in fact all universities take great efforts in increasing the number (and share) of Arab students in all fields of study. In fact, the share of Israeli Arab-Palestinians in higher education in Israel is very close to their share in the general population, with an upward trend. Universities also provide extensive protection of students’ academic freedom and freedom of speech, allowing them to hold political demonstrations and express their views freely. The number of incidents in which students are subject to disciplinary proceedings has been extremely low, and while the number increased following expressions by a few students that were interpreted as support of the Hamas October 7 terror attack, the overall number of such proceedings remained extremely low.

As mentioned, I agree that Israeli academia can and should do more. The peaceful and tolerant atmosphere within campuses does not always extend outside of them, and it seems Israeli scholars and academic institutions can do more to radiate the success inside academia to the general public sphere. But as the above examples demonstrate, I believe that, all things considered, Israeli academia is a positive element in promoting liberal democratic values and striving for peace in Israel. Pushing Israeli scholars away from Israel, as will inevitably happen if calls for a boycott prevail, will be counterproductive. It will increase the likelihood that the current government succeeds in its attempts to bring about the collapse of judicial review and the rule of law, and substantially strengthen those parts of society that call for “Jewish supremacy.” A strong Israeli academia is crucial in pushing Israel in the right direction. It should be supported, not attacked.

 

3. Specific Anecdotes about the Israeli Universities’ Complacency

Returning to Wind’s book, much of it consists of a series of examples presented to support the author’s claim that Israeli universities are “implicated in the systemic violation of Palestinian rights and academic freedom” (p. 11). These examples are a mix of different issues, presented in an incoherent and nonsystematic way, ignoring distinctions between private activities of specific faculty members and institutional policies. Beyond the fundamental flaws in this type of analysis, even the anecdotes themselves are presented inaccurately and misleadingly. The following illustrations highlight some of these shortcomings.

a) The Participation of IDF Soldiers and Police Cadets in Academic Programs: Wind contends that by holding various programs in which IDF soldiers and police cadets study for academic degrees, the Israeli universities are complicit with the activities of these bodies, as they become “an extension of the Israeli military insofar as [they] directly utilizes [their] academic programming to train soldiers for their positions” (p. 51). According to Wind, “Israeli universities run programs that conceptualize academic and military training as one and the same” (p. 100). This critique is baseless.

Soldiers who study at the universities participate in regular academic degree programs, sitting in classes next to other students. The studies are subject to all standard rules of academic freedom, without any governmental interference. Indeed, in the programs discussed in the book, the IDF adds to the regular academic studies its own training, but these aspects are isolated from the relevant academic institution. The supposition that a university is permitted to prevent a person from studying in a regular degree program because she serves or expected to serve in the IDF, or impose conditions on a student’s post-graduation activities, is absurd.

Moreover, Wind’s argument assumes that the IDF is a wicked entity that should be avoided at all costs (and thus, as she points out, the problem is that “Israeli universities have become integral to honing Israel’s military capabilities and reproducing its labor power” (p. 105)). The reality is precisely the opposite. First, given the immediate threats to the lives of Israeli citizens, the IDF, police, and other security agencies are the most critical components of the very existence of academic life in Israel, and there is nothing inherently wrong in enabling soldiers to participate in academic, non-military studies. Second, the participation of would-be soldiers and police cadets in academic programs, together with students of all groups, Jews and Arabs, provides an important opportunity for the universities to contribute their share to promote better understanding between all factions of society and mainly to educate future military personnel on the values of liberalism, human rights, and the importance of striving for peace.

b) Academic Research Collaborations with the IDF and Police: Wind points out several examples of research collaborations between researchers and the IDF and police as evidence of what she describes as Israeli academia’s subordination “to the Israeli state, and therefore accountable for its crimes” (p. 55). This claim too is unsubstantiated.

On one level, many of the examples presented in the book refer to the activities of individuals, not institutions. Consequently, drawing conclusions about “Israeli academia” from these sporadic examples is misleading. For instance, consider the subchapter devoted to Israeli international law scholars. Wind suggests that this group of researchers “create a discursive and legal infrastructure to justify Israeli violations of international human rights law and the laws of war, continually developing legal interpretations that shield the Israeli state from accountability for its illegal military tactics” (p. 24). she argues that “[l]eading departments and scholars […] have subordinated their intellectual inquiry to the requirements of the Israeli state” (ibid). However, Wind’s argument relies exclusively on the work of one(!) scholar who holds an adjunct (i.e., non-tenure track) position(!) in a center affiliated with one university. Wind not only fails to seriously analyze this specific researcher’s work but also completely hides from readers the vast body of work by about two dozen prominent Israeli international law scholars, among whom at least four who have served in UN Human Rights Committees based exclusively on their expertise. The Israeli international law scholars’ academic and public work is devoted to a critical assessment of Israel’s activities in the West Bank. Concluding that an entire field is complicit based on an unprofessional assessment of one adjunct scholar while disregarding the work of all prominent scholars in the field is misleading. There is nothing far from truth than Wind’s erroneous conclusion that “this discipline […] persist[s] in conducting research that […] supports repeated Israeli military campaigns that violate international human rights law and the laws of war in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (p. 55).

On a more general level, an evaluation of collaborations with government agencies must refer to the type of work that is done. As long as one rejects Wind’s position that the Israeli government is absolutely immoral, it is clearly not the case that any research collaboration with a government agency is a crime. One must carefully inquire into the types of academic collaborations with the government: to what extent academic freedom is maintained, and whether the policies promoted are justified. Given that applied, and not only basic, academic research is permissible, one should expect academic scholars to contribute their knowledge and expertise to improve public policy. It is precisely the role of academic research to promote liberal values and ensure that government agencies implement rational, evidence-based policies. The idea that scholars, let alone their institutions or the entire Israeli academia, should be blamed for such collaborations, reflects a complete misunderstanding of the role of academia in a free and democratic society.

Here, too, I’ll offer just two examples. In one place, Wind strongly criticizes a normative ethics professor for his involvement in assisting the IDF to draft its code of ethics, suggesting that in this work, this scholar “established himself as an academic in the service of the state” (p. 36). Disregarding the fact that this work was not done as part of the scholar’s academic work, the relevant consideration here is the content of the IDF’s code of ethics. Given that this code meets the highest standards, there is nothing wrong with the scholar’s work in this matter, aimed at improving the IDF’s adherence to morality. Similarly, Wind suggests that the collaboration of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Criminology with the Israeli police is inherently wrong (pp. 41–44), again claiming that “Israel’s leading criminologists have established themselves as experts in the service of [Israel police]” (p. 41). The reality is precisely the opposite. Researchers at the Institute of Criminology helped the Israeli police, as they do with police agencies abroad, to improve their commitment to procedural fairness, evidence-based, non-discriminatory policies, and more. For example, Hebrew University scholars successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of an integrative problem-solving approach to prevent what they refer to as the “political offense” of stone-throwing by Palestinian teenage boys in East Jerusalem. Their success in demonstrating that diversion to nonenforcement tracks and community-level interventions are more effective than standard imprisonment methods, and the subsequent decision of police to implement this approach as general practice, were achieved only due to this academic collaboration with the police.

Wind also refers to collaborations of academic scholars, again on an individual basis, with industry, to develop, among other things, sophisticated military equipment (pp. 109–112). Here too, one must evaluate these projects on a case-by-case basis. Scholars assisting the IDF to develop systems such as Iron Dome or Arrow, which are missile and rocket defense systems, contribute to saving lives, directly and indirectly (by lowering the need for a military response to rockets and missiles attacks, such as those launched against Israel by Iran in April 2024).

Rejecting the notion that the just goal is the dismantlement of the State of Israel, an evaluation of Israel’s academia in research collaborations with government agencies requires a careful analysis of specific projects and a distinction between institutional and individual collaborations. One must inquire whether academic scholars work for the benefit of society and follow moral values, an analysis completely missing in this book. A careful analysis would result in a clear rejection of the notion that Israeli scholars, let alone the entire Israeli academia, are complicit in wrongdoing.

c) The Location of University Campuses: Wind discusses at length the issue of the geopolitical location of several Israeli universities. Her main argument is that “across their localities, these universities were planned and built to serve as pillars of regional demographic engineering” (p. 14). This argument mainly refers to the establishment, back in the 1970s, of Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. Wind's critique here reflects her view that it is wrong to develop areas within the State of Israel, questioning the very legitimacy of the state’s existence. In fact, establishing new universities outside of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa and Jerusalem serves the public interest of Jews and Arab-Palestinians alike, and should be thus praised.

The book also discusses the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Referring to the university’s Mount Scopus campus, Wind writes that after the Six-Day War in 1967, the university “[c]elebrat[ed] the reopening of its campus in occupied East Jerusalem” (p. 56), and adds that “[t]he story of Hebrew University […] is the story of how Israeli institutions of higher education were designed to serve Zionist territorial conquest and the expansion of Jewish settlement across historic Palestine” (p. 57). This description is false.

The historic Mount Scopus campus was purchased in the 1910’s from its owner, a British person, for the establishment of the university. The university was located there from its opening in 1925 until 1948. During the 1948 war, Palestinians launched a terror attack, killing 76 faculty, students, and medical staff. As a result, the university was forced to relocate, but the campus remained under Israeli control based on the ceasefire agreement with Jordan. After the Six-Day War, in 1967, when access to the campus was reopened, the university reestablished its academic activities there. Since the area remained an enclave controlled by Israel between 1948–1967, it is not considered by the international community as part of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Thus, the campus is not located in “occupied East Jerusalem.”

An issue not discussed in the book but often raised by supporters of BDS refers to two student facilities (a dormitory and a sports center) among those serving the campus, which are located in areas largely viewed by the international community as part of the Occupied Territories in East Jerusalem. However, there is nothing unlawful or unethical about the situation. The university has owned private land in East Jerusalem since before 1948 and thus maintains continuous private property rights there, regardless of the area’s sovereignty status. International law does not prohibit the use of private land for public purposes, and the university is not at fault for using its longstanding property rights in ways that are lawful and non-discriminatory.

d) Political Aspects of Archaeological Studies: In her book, Wind suggests that Israeli archaeology scholars are biased, supporting the “Israeli assertion of an ancient […] Jewish presence in Palestine […], [and] to efface any Palestinian and Arab claims and evidence of centuries of existence on this very same land” (p. 28). Wind also argues that Israeli archaeology is complicit in violating international law by conducting excavations in the West Bank, which is an occupied territory, referring specifically to the “scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves in the West Bank […] [which] were seized from occupied East Jerusalem [held at the Palestinian Archaeological Museum] and transformed into […] Israel’s Museum” (p. 29). These accusations, claiming that the entire discipline of archaeology in Israeli academia is “conducting research that facilitates the Israeli erasure of Palestinian history and ongoing expropriation of Palestinian land” (p. 55) are again unfounded.

One issue is the repeated conflation between individual researchers and “Israeli academia.” Most excavations that Wind discusses were conducted by a government agency, the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has nothing to do with universities. The same is true about the Palestinian Archaeological Museum, renamed the Rockefeller Museum after 1967, and the Israel Museum, all entities that are not part of Israeli academia.

More troubling is the inaccurate information provided throughout Wind’s discussion on archaeological studies in Israel (pp. 24–35). As for the scrolls: the scrolls held at the Palestinian Archaeological Museum are not the ones presented at the Israel Museum. The former scrolls were purchased from those who stole them in the 1950’s, and they have been kept since 2000 by the Israel Antiquities Authority as custodian, as the preservation conditions at the Rockefeller Museum put them at risk. These scrolls are in very bad condition, as they were ripped into small pieces by those who stole them. The scrolls held at the Israel Museum are different ones, and they were not taken from “Palestinian land” but were purchased for full consideration from their owners, and most of these scrolls were originally found in areas inside the State of Israel.

The claim that Israeli academia works “to efface” Palestinian and Arab presence is also false. The findings of all excavations are published in peer-reviewed journals, including detailed reports of each layer, including those related to Islamic periods. An example is the detailed report of excavations conducted in Jerusalem by Israeli scholars, which consists of a 256-page book dedicated exclusively to the Islamic periods. Moreover, one of the subdivisions at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University is devoted to Islamic archaeology and regularly offers courses and studies of the Arab presence in Palestine. Here too, facts that do not fit Wind’s thesis were simply hidden or distorted.

        

At one point in the book, Wind suggests, referring to a report outlining strategies to combat the BDS movement, that its “many claims are broad […], backed by examples that are anecdotal and inaccurate or completely unsubstantiated” (p. 98). This description perfectly fits Wind’s own book. It presents a misleading, biased characterization of Israeli academia, based on overt delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Israeli academia is the cornerstone of Israel’s striving liberal democracy. It is the bastion of free speech, critical evaluation of government policies, and tolerance. Targeting it is not only completely unjustified but also counterproductive in the pursuit of peace.

In Israel, as in many other democracies, there is a high correlation between academic education and commitment to the values of liberalism, the rule of law, judicial independence, and support for establishing a Palestinian State. Higher education is also a vehicle for social mobility, providing essential opportunities to Arab-Palestinian Israelis. Weakening Israeli academia, as the boycott movement seeks to do, would only undermine this liberal and critical voice and weaken the democratic fabric of Israeli society. What is needed is greater engagement of intellectuals from around the world with Israelis and Palestinians. Scholars should meet Israelis and Palestinians, learn from them, hear their stories, understand their fears, offer them advice, and share international perspectives. Rather than severing ties with Israelis, regardless of their views or potential contributions to peace, a more demanding but justified and productive approach is needed.

 

 

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