Committee on Academic Freedom – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 20 Apr 2022 03:44:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 Students Society at McGill University must have the Right to Boycott Israel over Human Rights Violations (MESA) https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/students-university-violations.html Wed, 20 Apr 2022 04:08:20 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204185 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association | –

Letter to the provost of McGill University

Provost Christopher Manfredi
Office of the Provost and Vice Principal (Academic)
McGill University
845 Sherbrooke Street West, Suite 504
Montreal, Quebec H3A OG4
via fax: 514-398-4768

Dear Provost Manfredi:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about a recent statement by McGill University’s Deputy Vice Provost indicating that the university is considering terminating its Memorandum of Agreement with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) as a result of the latter’s adoption of a “Palestine Solidarity Policy.” Such a step by the university would constitute a serious violation of the right of McGill University’s students and student organizations to freedom of speech and association.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On 21 March 2022, the SSMU conducted a referendum of its members on the Palestine Solidarity Policy, which among other provisions called for the boycott of, and divestment from, corporations and institutions with investments in Israel; 71 percent of those voting favored adopting the policy. On 24 March 2022, McGill University’s Deputy Vice Provost, Fabrice Lebeau, disseminated an email message demanding that the SSMU reverse its adoption of the Palestine Solidarity Policy on the ground that it “echoes key tenets of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement” and thereby violates the SSMU’s constitution, despite the fact that the Judicial Board of SSMU had issued three separate rulings (here, here and here) in 2021, all of which affirmed the constitutionality of political campaigns directed at corporate or state entities, including BDS-related campaigns. Mr. Lebeau further threatened to terminate the University’s Memorandum of Agreement with SSMU.

The right of McGill University students and faculty, as well as student organizations, to voice their opinions on policies toward any state, or to advocate political activities including boycott, sanctions, and divestment, is protected by the right of free speech and the principles of academic freedom. Mr. Lebeau’s threat to revoke the university’s Memorandum of Agreement with the SSMU because of a vote fairly and freely conducted in keeping with the student organization’s established procedures therefore constitutes an attempt to silence protected political speech. The fact that the university has yet to implement this sanction against the SSMU does not alleviate our concern since the administration has served the student union with a notice of default, requesting that the union repeal the motion or have its agreement with the university terminated.

We believe that institutions of higher learning must resolutely uphold and defend the principles of academic freedom, and they must also be sanctuaries for the free expression of ideas and opinions. We therefore ask you that you immediately withdraw the notice of default served to the SSMU and issue a clear and forceful public statement assuring students and faculty that McGill University will not countenance threats or attempts to limit their right to free speech and academic freedom, including the advocacy of ideas and policies that some may deem controversial.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell
MESA President
Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

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Israel has Deprived Palestinians of Right to Choose Int’l Scholars and Students for Palestinian Universities: MESA https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/palestinians-palestinian-universities.html Wed, 06 Apr 2022 04:20:07 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203891 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association of North America:

Letter protesting new Israel Government directive regarding selection of international scholars and students to teach and study in Palestinian Universities

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet . . . [et al.]

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to protest Israel’s recently released directive, “Procedure for Entry and Residency of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Region,” scheduled to take effect as policy in May 2022. Released by COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories), the policy vests the Israeli military with the unilateral power to select and exclude international faculty, academic researchers, and students who wish to teach, study, and conduct research at Palestinian universities. We regard this as both an attempt to isolate Palestinian scholars and students from the international scholarly community and a form of censorship aimed at constraining the freedom of speech and association of international academics and students by denying them access to and engagement with Palestinian scholars and students, as well as professional and educational opportunities at Palestinian universities. We condemn this proposed policy in the strongest terms as a clear escalation of the persistent efforts of your government to deny Palestinians the right to education.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

If the above directive becomes policy, written into law, it will limit the number of foreign instructors to 100 and foreign students to 150 annually for all institutions of higher education in the West Bank. The Israeli military will have the authority to determine the acceptability of the qualifications and fields of study of applicants. To quote the proposed policy, lecturers and researchers who excel in “necessary professions” will be approved “if it is proven, to the satisfaction of the authorized COGAT official” (32). It is unclear what, if any, expertise such an official would have to adjudicate qualifications of these academics and students, nor is a clear timeline given for this approval process. Moreover, if issued, a permit to teach or study at a Palestinian university would be valid for a period of one year and renewable for twenty-seven months, after which the scholar would have to depart the West Bank for nine months before applying for a permit again. The entire period of residence, even in this non-consecutive structure, cannot exceed five years. This policy will uproot faculty and students who do not hold residency permits (which are rarely granted) and constrain Palestinian universities’ capacity for recruitment and intellectual exchange. It also imposes an unworkable timeframe on long-term research programs and initiative planning, undermines the accreditation, recruitment, appointment and promotion procedures already in place at Palestinian educational institutions, and further constrains existing projects and programs funded by donor states and institutions — including the European Union, US Department of Education, the British Council, and other international bodies.

We know that a state like Israel that values higher education and learning would not accept an occupying military force to act as an academic arbiter in its own institutions. Yet, this directive is but the most recent development in the ongoing constriction and violation of Palestinian academic freedom. A brief glimpse over the last months points to this long record. In fact, our committee has written to you numerous times about egregious and violent attacks on Palestinian university students and staff, and in particular those at Birzeit University (see our latest letters on 8 February 2022; 22 December 2021; 21 July 2021; 28 June 2021; and earlier on 11 April 2019.) These attacks, assaults, and detentions are grave violations of basic rights to education and academic freedom. Specifically, these are clear violations of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Israel is a party to the UDHR and a signatory to the ICESCR and is therefore obligated to uphold them.

We call upon you to reject these proposed policies and prevent their becoming law.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah, Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kato Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinain Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Christopher Le Mon, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy. Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State

Scott Busby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy. Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State

George Noll, Palestinian Affairs Unit Chief, U.S. Embassy, Israel

Via Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association of North America

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Iran Must Release Prominent Anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah (MESA) https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/prominent-anthropologist-adelkhah.html Sat, 12 Mar 2022 05:02:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203418 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association | –

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, Head of the Judiciary

Your Excellencies,

We write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) to express our grave dismay over the reimprisonment of Iranian-French academic Prof. Fariba Adelkhah on 12 January 2022. Not only unjustified and cruel given the ongoing reports of COVID-19 infections in Iran’s prisons, Prof. Adelkhah’s return to Evin prison also seems to be politically motivated during a moment of intense negotiations between Iran and Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program. In this, our fifth letter to you regarding Prof. Adelkhah since her initial arrest in June 2019, we once again protest her unjustified imprisonment and call for her immediate release and safe return to France.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Prof. Adelkhah is a highly regarded anthropologist whose fieldwork-based scholarly writings over the past decades have made significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge regarding religious identities and practices in Iran and Afghanistan. Her expertise on Shi’i Islam has been particularly important for Western audiences who lack sufficient understanding of this sect. As we stated in our first letter protesting her arrest, dated 22 July 2019, none of her publications deal in any way with Iran’s security concerns; hence, there seems to be no justification for the 16 May 2020 five-year prison sentence she received for collusion against national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Moreover, as others have noted, the court proceedings that led to this sentencing were unfair: Prof. Adelkhah and her legal team were denied the opportunity to present a sufficient defense, and the prosecution failed to produce any evidence against her.

Despite the disturbing irregularities in due process, we do recognize that, owing to the high rates of COVID infection in Iran, the Iranian authorities allowed Prof. Adelkhah to serve nearly 15 months of her sentence in house arrest with an ankle bracelet, thus protecting her fragile health. All the more then our concern with the January 2022 decision to reimprison Prof. Adelkhah, which echoes the arbitrary arrest, sentencing, and other mistreatment to which she has been subject since mid-2019. According to a 16 January 2022 official statement by the Deputy Head of the International Affairs Office of the Judiciary, Prof. Adelkhah was sent back to prison for violating the limits of her house arrest, although the Judiciary did not provide any details on how she had violated these terms.

In recent years Iran has exhibited a pattern of arresting dual national academics like Prof. Abdelkhah on charges of espionage and threats to national security. To date, no charges have been substantiated against any of these dual nationals, suggesting that they are arbitrary and may be politically motivated. These cases add to the judiciary’s violations of Iran’s own laws as well as its international legal commitments. With the election of a new administration in 2021, we had hoped for a reversal of this trend which violates academic freedom and undermines the possibilities for academic exchange between Iran and other countries.

We are deeply concerned about Prof. Adelkhah’s health and safety and urge you to release her from prison immediately and allow her to return to France so that she can resume her scholarly activities. We also call upon you to respect academic freedom, freedom of movement, and scholarly exchange in general, and release all unjustly arrested and imprisoned academics so that they may continue their important academic work.

Thank you for your attention to these very serious matters. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

His Excellency Ebrahim Raisi, President

The Honorable Mahmoud Alavi, Minister of Intelligence

The Honorable Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Honorable Takht-Ravanchi, Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations

The Honorable Michelle Bachelet Jeria, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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U of Washington should not have Cancelled Israel Studies over Professor’s Criticism of Israel (MESA) https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/washington-cancelled-professors.html Tue, 01 Mar 2022 05:02:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203230 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association

Letter to the President of the University of Washington

Ana Mari Cauce

President, University of Washington

Dear President Cauce:

We write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about your administration’s treatment of Liora Halperin, Associate Professor of International Studies, History and Jewish Studies at the University of Washington and until recently incumbent of the Jack and Rebecca Benaroya Endowed Chair in Israel Studies. As a consequence of your administration’s decision to return the endowment for this chair to its donor, Professor Halperin – a highly regarded scholar, teacher and university leader – has been removed as the occupant of this chair and the Israel Studies program she has overseen since her arrival at the University of Washington has been stripped of its funding from this endowment, jeopardizing its viability. This action calls into question the University of Washington’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom and seriously compromises its integrity and independence as an institution of higher education.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

In May 2021, in response to the escalation of violence in Israel/Palestine, Professor Halperin signed a public letter condemning the “state violence” committed by Israel and expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza while also acknowledging the “pain, fear, and anger” provoked by “unjustifiable and indiscriminate Hamas rockets.” In signing this letter Professor Halperin acted as a private citizen exercising her First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and not in any official university capacity; her action in no way violated the university’s code of conduct.

According to media reports, your decision to return the donation that funded this endowed chair, which resulted in Professor Halperin’s removal from it, was taken in response to the donor’s complaints over that May 2021 letter as well as over aspects of Professor Halperin’s leadership of Israel Studies at the University of Washington. We understand that StandWithUs, an advocacy group that seeks to silence criticism of Israel, also pressured the university about Professor Halperin. Capitulating to pressure from a donor or from a group external to the university pursuing a political agenda is a grave violation of academic freedom. As the American Association of University Professors’ 1994 statement “On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes” asserts: “Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning. Universities and colleges exist not only to transmit knowledge. Equally, they interpret, explore, and expand that knowledge by testing the old and proposing the new.”

We note further that, as we understand it, neither the university’s agreement with the donor who endowed this chair nor its own policies provide for donated funds to be returned if the donor is displeased with the speech or actions of the holder of a chair they have endowed. That you apparently chose to ignore or contravene that agreement and university policy by returning the donation renders this violation of academic freedom and proper university governance even more egregious.

It is the duty of university leaders to resist pressure from donors and other external actors who object, on purely political grounds, to what faculty members may say or teach, or how they lead the academic units they are appointed to oversee. The failure of the University of Washington to fulfil this obligation has not only harmed Professor Halperin; it sets a dangerous precedent for other faculty at your university and at other institutions of higher education. We therefore call on you to initiate an independent inquiry into how this issue was handled, reconfirm your commitment to the principles of academic freedom and to generally accepted standards of how universities should relate to donors, and ensure that neither Professor Halperin nor the university’s Israel Studies program suffers as a result of your actions.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

Via Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association

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Criticizing Israeli Policies is not Antisemitism, and Arizona Teachers Shouldn’t be deprived of 1st Amendment Rights https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/criticizing-antisemitism-amendment.html Tue, 15 Feb 2022 05:02:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202980 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association: Letter Protesting proposed adoption of flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism for Arizona institutions of higher education by the Arizona assembly.

Dear Representatives Udall, Parker and Grantham:

We write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about aspects of HB 2819, a bill now under consideration by the Arizona House of Representatives and recently referred to your committees. While the avowed purposes of the bill – to prohibit discrimination on the basis of students’ religious beliefs and to combat antisemitism – may be laudable, the bill embraces a flawed definition of antisemitism and thereby poses a threat to academic freedom and to the constitutionally protected right of free speech.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We are of course deeply disturbed by the rising tide of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism in the United States, and we firmly believe that combatting antisemitism and all other forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination is an essential duty for educational institutions, including Arizona’s colleges and universities. However, Section 2 of HB 2819, which would amend Section 15-1862 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, incorporates (in clause G) the language of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s much-criticized definition of antisemitism.

As we have repeatedly pointed out, this definition is not only flawed but dangerous, because it conflates criticism of Israeli actions and policies, of Israel as a state and of Zionism as a political ideology with antisemitism. The bill requires Arizona’s universities and community colleges to use this broad and vague definition when adopting policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, which may result in the sanctioning of faculty, students or staff who express opinions that are critical of Israel but not by any reasonable definition antisemitic. More broadly, it may have a chilling effect on teaching about, and public discussion of, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on community college and university campuses in Arizona.

We see such efforts to unduly expand the definition of antisemitism to include legitimate, constitutionally protected criticism of Israel as part of a broader campaign by individuals and organizations based outside of academia to use the power of government in order to silence opinions and advocacy with which they disagree. We believe that all political speech, including criticism of any government or ideology and advocacy for any group’s rights, is, and must remain, constitutionally protected in Arizona and throughout the United States. At our institutions of higher education this constitutional protection must be accompanied by a rigorous respect for the standards and traditions of academic freedom, which HB 2819 in its current form threatens.

We therefore call on you to amend this bill so that it does not incorporate the IHRA definition of antisemitism, especially as alternatives are readily available which much more clearly and effectively define antisemitism and distinguish it from criticism of Israel and Zionism – for example, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

TO:

Representative Michelle Udall

Chair, Education Committee

Arizona House of Representatives

Representative Jacqueline Parker

Vice-Chair, Judiciary Committee

Arizona House of Representatives

Travis Grantham

Vice-Chair, Rules Committee

Arizona House of Representatives

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Letter protesting Israeli Troops’ Invasion of Birzeit University and Assault on Palestinian Students https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/protesting-invasion-university.html Wed, 09 Feb 2022 05:04:46 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202882 From Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association of North America.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet et al…

Fax: +972-2-5664838

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to protest the Israeli military’s 10 January 2022 storming of the gates of Birzeit University, arrest of five students and firing of live ammunition on university grounds. We condemn in the strongest terms this horrifying escalation of ongoing assaults on Palestinian universities, and Birzeit University in particular.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On 10 January 2022, Israeli military forces, including undercover units disguised as locals, arrested five Birzeit students. They are Ismail Barghouthi, Waleed Harazneh, Abdel-Hafez Sharabati, Mohammed Khatib, and Qassem Nakhleh. During the invasion of the university campus and arrests, Ismail Barghouti was shot by the IDF in the thigh and required hospitalization, and two others were severely beaten. These students, all of them part of the leadership of the student movement at Birzeit University, were, like their peers, participating in protests and rallies, and organizing campus gatherings and other ordinary student activities. These five students join the nearly 80 Birzeit University students currently under arrest, some of whom are being held without charge under administrative detention. Our committee has written to you several times about the persistent, egregious attacks on Palestinian university students and staff, and in particular those at Birzeit University (see our latest letters, dated 22 December 2021; 21 July 2021; 28 June 2021; for earlier letters, see, for example, 11 April 2019.)

As with the previous incidents, we strongly condemn these most recent arrests and the invasion of Birzeit University’s campus. Palestinian students, like students elsewhere, have every right to peaceful protest and to organizing in ways they see fit. To arrest them as they protest is a violation of their academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The attacks and detentions described above are grave violations of basic rights to education and academic freedom. They are a part of a larger assault on the Palestinian right to education in the West Bank: an assault that has grown increasingly brutal in recent months. Detaining students increases the time they need to spend toward the attainment of academic degrees, while arresting faculty members disrupts instruction. The new measures, in which students, including student leaders, faculty members, and administrators are detained while on university grounds, turn campuses from safe spaces into zones where students’ and staff members’ politics put them in grave danger.

These arbitrary arrests and detentions of students are also a clear violation of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Israel is a party to the UDHR and a signatory to the ICESCR and is therefore obligated to uphold them. We call upon you to cease these attacks on Palestinian universities and protect the rights of all Palestinian students to an education.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah, Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the Europeans Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kato Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Via Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association of North America.

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Birzeit University Advancement in 10 years

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Protesting latest Israeli attacks on Palestinian universities and civil society organizations (MESA) https://www.juancole.com/2021/12/palestinian-universities-organizations.html Tue, 28 Dec 2021 05:04:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202028 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association |

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet

Fax: +972-2-5664838

Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton

Fax: +972-2-5602390

Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar

Fax: +972-2-6285438

Brigadier General Ghasan Alyan

Head of Civil Administration in the West Bank, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)

Fax: +972-2-6599133

Chief Clerk Init Malul

Supreme Court of the State of Israel

Fax: +972-2-6759648

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to protest the ongoing and intensified Israeli attacks on Palestinian universities and civil society. Most recently, on 14 December 2021 at around 4:30 in the morning, over one hundred Israeli soldiers broke through the main campus gate of Birzeit University. They assaulted and detained several security guards, tore down the Palestinian flag at the center of campus, and raided the faculties of Graduate Studies, Science, and Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Professions. This violation appears to be part of a larger strategy aimed at harming, if not destroying, the fabric of civil life for Palestinians. We note, in particular, the Israeli government’s recent designation of six civil society organizations (Addameer, al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations. Designating them thus not only threatens to close these organizations, but also criminalizes the very important work done to date by them in human rights advocacy, socio-economic development, and documentation.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The move to classify human rights organizations under the rubric of terrorism announced on 22 October by Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, represents a dangerous precedent that is part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation, threats and blatant violence against Palestinian students, scholars, researchers and institutions, about which we have written to you on numerous occasions (see, for example, our letters, 13 April 2021, 28 June 2021, 13 August 2020, 19 June 2020). Indeed, well prior to this recent designation, prominent members of these organizations were detained by the Israeli military in an effort to silence them. Consider the case of the arrest and detention of Ubai Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development and researcher in the field of socio-economic rights, about whom we wrote to you (see our letter 12 December 2019). We have recently learned that he and other Palestinian civil society workers are being subjected to intensified illegal surveillance as part of the Israeli government’s Pegasus project.

By criminalizing these organizations and their workers, Israel is thereby also escalating its targeting of human rights advocacy, documentation and research. The studies and reports produced by these respected institutions are well-researched and carefully documented; for decades scholars of and advocates for international human rights have depended upon these materials for their own work. We therefore concur with Birzeit University colleagues that this latest move by the Israeli government against Palestinian civil society organizations sends a clear message of intimidation aimed at terminating any attempts by international colleagues to conduct research with these organizations or to utilize documentation developed by them. In so doing, it violates well-established principles of academic freedom.

Furthermore, this criminalization of human rights work violates the rights enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and as a signatory of the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions.

We call upon you to cease these attacks on Palestinian civil society organizations and on Palestinian scholars, students and academic institutions, and to protect Palestinians’ rights to education and research.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Eve Troutt Powell

MESA President

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kati Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Israeli forces and settlers target Palestinian school kids”

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Protesting Israeli Army Arrest of 45 Palestinian University Students https://www.juancole.com/2021/07/protesting-palestinian-university.html Thu, 22 Jul 2021 04:01:28 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199015 Middle East Studies Association
Committee on Academic Freedom

Letter Protesting Israeli Army Arrest of 45 Palestinian University Students, and Ongoing Detention of 15 after a Solidarity Visit to a Demolished Home in Turmus ‘Aya

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet et al. . . .

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to demand a halt to the Israeli military’s ongoing violence against students, faculty and staff at Palestinian universities.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On 14 July, the Israeli army detained forty-five Palestinian students, most of whom are from Birzeit University (BZU), following a solidarity visit to the Shalabi family, whose home in Turmus ‘Aya had been destroyed by the Israeli army the previous week. Israeli soldiers detained these students at Turmus ‘Aya village, northeast of Ramallah, for several hours. According to the Right to Education Campaign at BZU, nearly 30 of the BZU students were then transferred to an unknown location. BZU’s lawyer confirmed that 8 students were then released, followed by two more the next day. Currently, 15 students remain detained, five of them in the Moscobiya prison and 10 others in Ofer prison. These students were to be brought before a military court on 15 July, but their hearings have all been postponed and the students remain in detention. This targeting of Palestinian students is an attempt to undermine students’ right to organize and support the political struggles of their people.

As we have detailed in previous letters, these arrests, subsequent brutal interrogations, and imprisonment are not only a clear violation of the basic rights of the individuals themselves; they are also part of a larger policy that directly targets thousands of Palestinian students, disrupts their education, and undermines the role of Palestinian academic institutions. The Israeli army has been particularly aggressive in targeting students at BZU, and these latest arrests follow the same pattern that the Israeli army and security forces have established over the last several years in a broad campaign targeting Palestinian students in the West Bank [see our many letters, for example, 28 June 2021, 12 April 2021,11 April 2019, 22 January 2019, 13 March 2018]. Currently, there are more than 300 Palestinian students in Israeli prisons. Our committee has repeatedly written to you to protest these arbitrary arrests [see letters dated 11 May 2020, 24 September 2019, 22 January 2019, 8 August 2018].

The practices described above are part of a long-standing but intensifying pattern of Israeli violations of students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest. Furthermore, these arbitrary arrests are violations of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory of the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions. Hence, it must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to education. We call upon you to cease these arbitrary arrests immediately and unconditionally, release all of these students, and protect Palestinian students’ right to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kati Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Via Committee on Academic Freedom

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Israeli Security Forces assault a number of Birzeit University students at the road

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Protesting Ongoing Israeli Army Arrests, Detention of University Students in Occupied Palestine https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/protesting-detention-university.html Thu, 15 Apr 2021 04:04:23 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197235 By Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association.

To: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Education Yoav Galant, Minister of Higher Education Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn, Brigadier General Rasan Alian, Head of Civil Administration in the West Bank, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Chief Clerk Init Malul, Supreme Court of the State of Israel

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to once again urge a halt to the Israeli army’s targeting, arrests and ongoing imprisonment of students and staff at Palestinian universities. As we have detailed in previous letters, these arrests and subsequent violent interrogation and imprisonment are not only a clear violation of the basic rights of the individuals themselves; they are part of a larger policy that directly targets students and undermines the role of academic institutions for thousands of students living under occupation. The Israeli military further escalated its attack on the Palestinian student movement on 21 October 2020, officially labeling a student bloc at Birzeit University in the West Bank, a “prohibited terrorist organization,” thereby officially criminalizing students for their political work on campus. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the harm the Israeli army and judiciary inflict on students at all levels of education through these arrests.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to Palestinian sources, including the Palestinian Prisoner Society and Addameer, Palestinian Support and Human Rights Association, there are currently about 300 Palestinian students in Israeli prisons. These detentions are emblematic of the Israeli policy of targeting and disrupting Palestinian higher education. Students, professors and employees on Palestinian campuses have been targeted by the Israeli military, as indicated by, for example, the continued detention of Imad Barghouthi, Professor of Theoretical Space Plasma Physics at Al-Quds University (see our letter dated 21 September 2020). Our committee has repeatedly written to you in the past to protest these arbitrary arrests (most recently, see letters dated 11 May 2020, 24 September 2019, 22 January 2019, 8 August 2018).

The Israeli army has been particularly aggressive in targeting students at Birzeit University (BZU). Over seventy currently registered BZU graduate and undergraduate students are incarcerated in Israeli prisons. According to the Right to Education Campaign at BZU, over the course of the first semester of this academic year (September 2020 through February 2021), the Israeli army arrested twenty-one students; each student endured a period of interrogation, often without access to legal representation or advocacy. Seventeen of these recently arrested students remain in prison. Three are being held in so-called administrative detention: Muhammad Zayton, Rami Karajeh, and Sufyan Maqdadi. Fourteen students have been subjected to violent interrogation, including physical and psychological torture; they were subsequently charged and now await trial: Muhammad Abu Hawa, Muslim Tamami, Omar Abu ‘Aqil, Ahmad al Khatib, Osama al Sufi, Zayn Qadomi, Ahmad Khroub, ‘Amro ‘Aqil, Nadir Uwaidat, Muhammad Qasim, Mutasim Ballah Zaylom, Hazim Uwaidat, Yu’ad Abu Ayash, Abbas Abu ‘Alyia, Husayn Qaddora, and Shatha al-Tawil.

Among these recent arrests is Shatha al-Tawil, who is now detained along with her classmates Elia Abu Hijleh, Ruba ‘Assi and Layan Kayed (about whom we wrote on 19 June 2020) in Damon prison. Shatha and Ruba, like Elia and Layan, as well as Mais Abu Ghosh before them (about whom we wrote on 11 May 2020) have undergone physical and psychological torture. Elia has now been sentenced to 16 months in prison and a fine of 6000 NIS. Shatha and Ruba have been charged; they await trial and sentencing. All three were charged simply with involvement in student organizations on campus.

These new arrests follow the same pattern that the Israeli army and security forces have established over the last several years in a broad campaign targeting Palestinian students in the West Bank. Among these students are Omar al-Kiswani (about whom we wrote on 11 April 2019, 2 January 2019, 13 March 2018), whom the Israeli army took captive from the heart of the university campus. Omar was subjected to prolonged interrogation in the Moscobiya detention center in Jerusalem. His lawyers report that he endured physical and psychological torture. He has subsequently been charged and sentenced to 50 months with a 55 000 NIS fine. On 2 April 2020, Muhammad al-Majid Hasan, like Omar al-Kiswani, was subjected to prolonged interrogation at the Moscobiya detention center. Muhammad endured forty days of interrogation, during which he was diagnosed with the Covid 19 virus. Muhammad was later sentenced to a 14-month prison term. The Israeli army also arrested Muhammad’s brother, Abd al-Majid Hassan, on 30 March 2021. After interrogation, many of these students face the prospect of extended detention without trial.

The detention and sentencing of these students are examples of the ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian students by the Israeli authorities. They are part of a pattern of Israeli repression of Palestinian students, and clearly violate students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest. Furthermore, these arbitrary arrests are violations of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory of the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions. Hence, it must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to education. We call upon you to cease these arbitrary arrests immediately and unconditionally, release all of these students, and protect Palestinian students’ right to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Micharl Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the Europeans Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kato Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Featured Photo: Bir Zeit University, h/t wikipedia.

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