17 March 2024

We are encouraged to see that a hundred members of the Hebrew University faculty have protested the decision of the President Professor Asher Cohen and Rector Professor Tamir Sheaferto to suspend Professor Nadera Shahoub-Kevorkian for publicly criticising the Israeli government’s genocidal assault on Gaza – while firmly rejecting her criticism. The faculty and staff of the University number over 6,000, but all the same 100 defenders of free speech is better than none at all. Here is the Haaretz report:

100 Hebrew University faculty protest suspension of colleague who alleged Israeli Genocide, Questioning Hamas Atrocities – Israel News – Haaretz.com

Some 100 Hebrew University faculty members called to revoke the suspension of Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who had distributed a petition accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza and said the same in a podcast interview.

The lecturers, current and former, wrote that although they “firmly object” to Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s statement, they believe the university has no authority to suspend her without an orderly process, including a discussion in the discipline committee.

“The university management must respect the protocol and basic principle regarding faculty members’ academic freedom,” they wrote.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian said in the podcast interview that Israel was carrying out a genocide in the Gaza Strip, doubted that sexual assaults had taken place on October 7 and added that “Zionism is a crime, and only by canceling/revoking it will we be able to go on.”

She also distributed a petition calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which claimed Israel was committing genocide.

The interview, on the podcast Makdisi Street, dealt mostly with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and with the injustices committed under its auspices.

In the part dedicated to October 7 Shalhoub-Kevorkian said she “objects to things that were done – I wouldn’t allow anyone to kill a child, to abduct, rape a woman,” but doubted the attack consisted of cases of unrestrained violence and sexual assaults.

She noted that “the production of the stories, the exaggeration, was done to present the Palestinians as awful… Abuses and sexual abuses happen, and it shouldn’t happen, and I will never approve it, not to Israelis nor to Palestinians, and not in my name.”

Shalhoub-Kevorkian then said that after October 7, no women came out with stories of sexual violence inflicted upon them by Hamas, and that the lack of first-hand testimony should be taken into account. She questioned: “is Israel allowing proper collection of evidence?… women’s bodies are being used as political weapons.”

The decision to suspend Shalhoub-Kevorkian was made on Tuesday, following pressure from students and right-wing activists. MK Sharan Haskel also called on the university to “fire her immediately.”

University President Professor Asher Cohen and rector professor Tamir Sheafer announced the suspension. They wrote that Shalhoub-Kevorkian “continues to benefit from our magnificent institution’s reputation, while embarrassing us at the Israeli and international level.”

They added that her statements “take freedom of expression and academic freedom to the extreme and use it cynically, to the point of provocation and incitement.” According to them, the suspension is intended to “preserve a safe climate on campus for the good of the students.”

The faculty members objecting to the suspension said Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s words were not incitement to violence “and pose no danger.” They pointed out that the university itself, a month after October 7, released a document with guidelines for statements in the university community, saying explicitly it was “permitted to express sympathy with the suffering of innocent people or their dear ones who were hurt, Israelis, Palestinians, or others.”

The faculty members said that although they “firmly object” to Shalhoub-Keorkian’s statements, they “don’t exceed the permitted in keeping with the guidelines and the basic principles of academic freedom and the freedom of expression in general. Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s positions are outrageous, but don’t constitute a breach of the law and don’t support, explicitly or implicitly, violence or the horrific acts of Hamas.”

Another reason to revoke the suspension is the fear of harming the university’s status in the world. “This response to Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s words could increase the calls for international academic boycott on the university, and harm Israeli academia in general,” the objection reads. “The damage that could be caused to the university and Israeli academia is immeasurably greater than the possible benefit of preserving a ‘safe climate on campus’.”

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel also sent a letter to the university leadership, asking them to revoke their decision. “The decision creates a one dimensional university and academic space, in which there is no room for a diversity of opinions and which will turn into an unsafe and dangerous space, that incites against anyone who expresses critical views against Israel’s policy in this war on Gaza,” they wrote.

“This has repercussions regarding a large public among the community of faculty members, and especially the Arab ones,” their letter continued.

Academia for Equality also issued a statement on the topic, saying: “if we allow the injustice done to Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian to pass, none of us will be safe. Freedom of expression and research is the core of academia, and without it, it has no right to exist. Unless the university leadership retracts this shameful decision, the gates will open for a murky wave of oppression.”