Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in Israel

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in Israel

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, Soas, University of London was the first British institution to hold an institution-wide referendum on an academic boycott of Israel, backing it by an overwhelming majority.

An invitation to a postgraduate seminar from a Palestinian Israeli citizen working at the University of Haifa caused me to confront the issue. Could I participate without breaking the boycott? I was assured that the event would not be publicly advertised. Names of speakers and their universities would not be used to promote a business as usual message.

The academic boycott is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which advocates no institutional or cultural links with Israel. Projects that promote "co-resistance" to discriminatory state policies are exempt.

The seminar theme was "Diversity and belonging in education: conflicts of positioning" - a subject impossible to discuss when discrimination is widespread and institutionalised, without engaging with justice and human rights.

The seminar, funded by a German government-sponsored initiative, brought together young scholars from Israel and Germany, including Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, and Germans of Turkish and Iranian descent. They confronted difficult political questions over four meetings, including one held during the 2014 Gaza war. They discussed unequal power relations and their experiences as eyewitnesses to institutionalised discriminatory practices.

At the university, I visited a graduate class. Hebrew is the language of instruction in Israeli higher education but, exceptionally, this class worked in Arabic with a Palestinian lecturer. Most children study in separate Hebrew or Arabic language schools, so Palestinians arrive at university ill-equipped to manage academic Hebrew.

In parts of Haifa, it is easy to believe that you are in a Palestinian city, with handsome stone houses, Arabic voices and music. …

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