PACBI Statement

The Militarization of the Israeli Academy

August 9, 2010

This piece was published as the PACBI Column in the August 2010 issue of the BRICUP Newsletter.

This piece was published as the PACBI Column in the August 2010 issue of the BRICUP Newsletter.

Many academics around the world were shocked at the recently enacted Israeli Knesset bill that will provide one year of free tuition to any discharged soldier (reservist) who studies at an institution of higher learning in the Galilee, the Naqab (Negev), and the illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank.  In June 2010, and in preparation for the Knesset vote, the Israeli cabinet approved the draft legislation; Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted as saying, "The need to aid discharged soldiers and promote the periphery is part of the national consensus." [1]  This overt use of higher education institutions to buttress Israel‘s settler-colonization of the Palestinian land, however, is anything but new.  Since the creation of the state of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian society, the deep partnership between the academy and the military-security establishment has been emblematic of the widely militarized Israeli society.

One of the more remarkable features of Israel is the normalization of the military in almost every facet of life.  The ubiquitous presence of the military is unremarkable and not cause for comment or controversy among the public, including intellectuals, artists and public figures. In a highly militarily mobilized country, raising concerns about the militarization of the educational system goes against the grain, against the national consensus which views the overbearing military presence as a natural, even necessary, part of the fabric of "civic" life.  Among academics, discussions on the autonomy of the university do not usually take into consideration the high level of integration between the academy on the one side and the military and weapons industry on the other, as the latter have always been a staple feature of life at Israel’s major universities.  The entrenched complicity of the Israeli academy in planning, promoting and justifying Israel‘s colonial and apartheid policies is hardly debated.


The vociferous public controversy surrounding Palestinian filmmaker Nizar Hassan is a case in point.  In November 2007, a year after the Israeli army’s massive and lethal assault on Lebanon which left more than one thousand Lebanese killed, Hassan, an instructor at Sapir Academic College in Sderot in southern Israel, asked a student who came to his class in military uniform not to wear it next time in class.  The public campaign of slander and vilification against Hassan that ensued says volumes not only about the veneration of the military in society but also its normalization within academic institutions.  The college president instructed Hassan to apologize to the student, adding, “you must refer to your obligation to be respectful to the IDF uniform and the full right of every student to enter your classroom in uniform." [2]

It is thus no surprise that the above mentioned bill in the Knesset has passed without any ado in Israel.  The fact that the new law went unremarked is a strong indicator that Israel‘s higher education institutions are so overwhelmingly integrated into the military and security establishment that it is not worthy of comment.  A lone act of protest against this law came from the Gush Shalom movement.  However, the protest shows the limits of the critique of state and society by the Israeli “peace forces” which by and large do not object to the militarization of the academy and do not support Israel‘s full compliance with its obligations under international law in regard to ending the system of racial discrimination inside the State or allowing the Palestinian refugees to exercise their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes.

In a letter to the Committee of University Heads in Israel, Gush Shalom warns that the Government‘s sponsorship of this law may add "considerable impetus" to the "growing worldwide movement of academic boycott against Israeli universities."  The silence of Israel‘s academic institutions in response to it, the statement rightly notes, will deepen their "complicity with the occupation."  The only other concern raised in this protest is that a law on aid to released soldiers which would also "help the peripheral areas" will in fact provide "special benefit and encouragement" to academic institutions in the "settlements of Ariel, Elkana and Alon Shvut." [3]  Missing from the statement is any mention of the fact that the complicity of Israel‘s academic institutions extends well beyond apathy towards the mentioned colony-colleges to cover a much wider range of domains, where the academy plays a key role in providing the rationale and justification – and often the plans -- for ethnic cleansing, extra-judicial killings, colonization and dehumanization.

It is PACBI’s opinion that the complicity of academic institutions with the Israeli occupation and the larger system of apartheid and colonial oppression of the Palestinian people is not limited to Ariel College or the handful of academic institutions in Israel‘s illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank—interestingly missing the Hebrew University Mount Scopus Campus, the first "colony-college" to be built by Israel.  The protest of Gush Shalom, thus, remains well within the national consensus in Israel which does not question the fundamental partnership between the universities and the military-security apparatus that denies the Palestinian people its right to self determination and other fundamental rights.

The partnership between the academy and the military has taken many forms.  One is the earlier classic colonial model of scholars serving interchangeably in the academy and as advisors and administrators in the military-security establishment.  Acquiescing to, even encouraging, academics to serve in the reserve forces annually within a specific age group is another important aspect of that complicity.  Yet another has been the tradition of the integration of army personnel and institutions within the universities, such as in the Talpiot and Psagot schemes of the “academic reserve” program at several major universities.  The most critical arena where this collusion is manifest is the robust cooperation between research universities and the weapons industry, which directly implicates the academy in supporting the commission of war crimes and other grave violations of international law.  Some of these facets of integration are analyzed in two excellent reports by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem and the SOAS Palestine Society. [4]

There has been no palpable protest in Israel against the complicity of the academy with the army and related institutions, even after the massive assault on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009, when the Israeli army unleashed the full force of its lethal arsenal upon the civilian population and infrastructure of Gaza, destroying scores of schools and university buildings, among other civilian "targets" as part of its "Dahiya Doctrine" of disproportionate force developed by Tel Aviv University‘s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) . [5]  While this criminal assault galvanized many international solidarity groups and invigorated the movement for BDS around the world, it seems to have had the opposite effect in Israeli academia: business as usual, or worse.  One particularly telling and representative example is that of Haifa University, long falsely marketed as a "liberal" institution that promotes "coexistence," which at the height of "Cast Lead" displayed a huge Israeli flag on its 30-story tower, almost literally "wrapping itself with the flag," as a sign of support for Israel‘s war on Gaza and to show that the University "stands behind the soldiers," as stated by its president.  It is not just the Israeli government and Knesset that stand behind the soldiers, after all.






[2] Jonathan Cook, “Academic freedom? Not for Arabs in Israel.” The Electronic Intifada, March 5, 2008.


[4] Alternative Information Center, “The Economy of the Occupation: Academic Boycott of Israel,” October 2009.; and SOAS Palestine Society, “Urgent Briefing Paper: Tel Aviv University-a Leading Israeli Military Research Centre.” February 2009.

[5] SOAS, ibid.


August 9, 2010


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