To boycott this university among all the universities in Israel is so bizarre and so distorted that I simply can't understand it,' said Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, the president of Haifa University, one of two Israeli academic institutions blacklisted last week by Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT). 'We are the most pluralistic and most tolerant university in Israel.' He could hardly be expected to say less, but he made out a strong case, which he said the AUT never let him present.
Some 20 per cent of Haifa's 16,500 students are Israeli Arabs, the same proportion as Arab citizens make up in the country as a whole. A month ago the university elected an Arab professor to the key post of dean of research. Majed el-Haj, a Muslim sociologist who specialises in problems of Arab education and of Jewish immigrants, will be the first Arab dean in any Israeli university.
Ramzi Suleiman, a Christian Arab, chairs the department of psychology, which alongside its general courses runs special programmes for Arab clinical psychologists and Arab educational counsellors. The two professors are among about 30 Arab faculty members at Haifa, which claims more Arab teachers and researchers than any other in the country. Professor Ben-Ze'ev admitted that was 'far below what it should be,' but insisted the number was rising. 'It is my policy,' he explained, 'to promote Arab lecturers and Arab professors. But we don't just appoint somebody because he is an Arab. We appoint somebody who is an Arab and a good scholar.'
The AUT's case for singling out Haifa University was based on the claim of Dr Ilan Pappe that he is being hounded out of his post by 'Zionist loyalists,' who he says dominate history and political science studies in Israel. Pappe, a historian who has revealed some of the murkier truths behind the creation of the Jewish state, is an outspoken advocate of the boycott.
At Haifa, he said in an interview with the daily paper Ha'aretz, 'the authorities cleanse anyone who dares to cast doubt, as part of his professional work, on the foundation of Zionism.'
Professor Ben-Ze'ev responded that the university did not intend to discipline Dr Pappe, which he said might be interpreted as violating his academic freedom. But he urged him to 'follow his own advice' and boycott the university by resigning.
Dr Pappe's long-running quarrel with the university peaked when he defended Teddy Katz, an MA student, after the university rejected Katz's research paper alleging a massacre committed by Israeli soldiers in the Arab village of Tantur during the 1948 war. One lecturer proposed then that Pappe should be disciplined, but the university took the matter no further.
When some of the old soldiers sued Katz for libel, he withdrew the massacre charge, but insisted later that he had nothing to apologise for. An independent committee, appointed by the university, concluded that the thesis was 'grossly distorted.' Tom Segev, a historian and newspaper columnist identified with the Israeli left, endorsed the university's decision after reviewing Mr Katz's research material and listening to his taped interviews with witnesses.
'Teddy Katz wrote a very bad dissertation,' Dr Segev told The Independent. 'Some people told him the opposite of what he says they said. Also, he quoted some people who had no way of knowing what happened. Massacres did take place at that time, but as a historian you have to prove it. …