“The Military is Grossly Interfering with Academic Freedom”

Heads of Universities in an Unprecedented Accusation of the Defense Ministry:

"The Military is Grossly Interfering with Academic Freedom"

· The heads of Israel’s universities demand that the Defense Minister respect their academic freedom and stop preventing them from enrolling Palestinian students.

· Senior academics ask to join a Supreme Court petition against discriminatory restrictions on Palestinian students studying in Israel.

· Professor Moshe Ron of the Hebrew University to the Court: "These criteria, if left unchanged, will help those who are trying to impose an academic boycott on Israel."

Tue., July 29, 2008 –  Five Israeli professors today requested that the Israeli Supreme Court allow them to join a petition against restrictions on Palestinian students entering Israel to study at institutions of higher education. The request was submitted as part of Gisha’s response to the discriminatory and restrictive criteria which give the military the power to decide on the admission of Palestinian students to Israeli universities. The policy compels heads of department to justify their academic considerations before the military and to persuade military officials of the wisdom of their decision to admit Palestinian students.

The Council of Heads of Universities sent a scathing letter to the Defense Minister signed by rectors and deans of Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University, the Technion, the Weizmann Institute, Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University: “Since its establishment, the State of Israel has carefully maintained a tradition of academic freedom… We expect the military to maintain this tradition and to limit its involvement to matters in its area of authority, meaning security evaluations only,” they wrote.

In October 2006, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement submitted a petition on behalf of Ms. Sawsan Salameh, a resident of the West Bank who was accepted to a doctoral program at the Hebrew University but was denied entry to Israel by the military, because of a complete ban on the entry of Palestinian students to Israel. At the request of the Israeli Supreme Court, the Defense Ministry canceled the ban but instead instituted severely restrictive criteria for permitting the entry of Palestinians to study in Israel. An additional court decision led to the reformulation of the criteria, but the military refused to change the substance of the restrictions and actually made them harsher. Today’s court submission challenges those criteria.

For example, according to the military, candidates may not be considered for subjects which “have the potential to be used against the State of Israel” (as defined by the Ministry of Defense), and a quota of just 70 Palestinian students who will be allowed to study at Israeli universities has been set. Israel’s academic institutions will be obliged to submit written requests to the military explaining the reasons why they wish to accept each student and justifying their admission decisions. All this is contrary to the stated position of the heads of the universities, the Israeli Academy of Sciences, the Education Minister and the Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, that every Palestinian student who meets the academic criteria and has been accepted to an Israeli institution of higher education should be allowed to study in Israel, subject to an individual security check.

One of the five professors, Prof. Tzvi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University, expressed astonishment in an affidavit at the decision to limit numbers of Palestinian students in Israel: “The Jewish people suffered for many years from restrictions on academic freedom imposed on European Jews, known infamously as the ‘numerus clausus.’”

Prof. Ehud De Shalit, the head of the Mathematics Institution at the Hebrew University, writes in his affidavit that: "Of course the state may prevent the entrance of a person, Palestinian or other nationality, who poses a danger. But that does not give the state the right to intervene in the university’s considerations in accepting students. As soon as a student has been accepted for study, in terms of academic considerations, he must be treated as any other student, whether he comes from China, France, or the West Bank." Prof. Moshe Ron of the Literature Department in the Hebrew University told the court that: "If these criteria remain unchanged, it will help those who are trying to impose an academic boycott on Israel and will severely harm Israel’s academic standing in the world, especially in Europe."

“As part of my academic activities I have met with Palestinian intellectuals and students from the territories on a number of occasions, and our interaction was productive and important. I have no doubt that the admission of Palestinian students from the territories is essential and will enrich the academic discourse in law and in humanities in general,” wrote Prof. Alon Harel, of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University.

According to Attorney Noam Peleg of Gisha: "Israel’s military should listen to the demands of the Israeli academy – and stop arbitrarily preventing Palestinian students from studying at the universities that accepted them."