About three weeks ago, Moti Perry, an economics professor from Hebrew University, organized twenty-eight of his colleagues and together they published a letter supporting students who refuse to serve in “Operation Defensive Shield” as part of their reserve duty. “[Military] service [in the occupied territories] too often involves carrying out orders that have no place in a democratic society founded on the sanctity of human life,” the professors wrote, adding: “For thirty-five years an entire people, some three and a half million in number, have been held without basic human rights. The occupation and oppression of another people have brought the State of Israel to where it is today.” Cognizant of the fact that there are currently a number of students in jail, the professors also stated that they would help imprisoned students academically, administratively and financially, similar to the help offered by the university to students who return from reserve duty.
The refusenik community has grown dramatically in the past months, and now comprises more than 1,000 conscientious objectors, twenty-nine of whom are currently serving time in military prison. About half of these belong to the new movement “Courage to Refuse”(www.seruv.org.il/defaulteng.asp), while the rest are either members of Yesh Gvul (“There Is a Limit,” www.yesh-gvul.org) or 18-year-olds who have completed high school and are unwilling to be conscripted. Considering that the average sentence of a reserve soldier is twenty-eight days, the number of refuseniks who have been in prison since the outbreak of the second intifada is about 100 and not merely the twenty-nine who are currently incarcerated.
Following the publication of the professors’ statement, a group of students and lecturers at Hebrew University distributed an anonymous flier that provides the names of the twenty-nine signatories, characterizing them as “poisonous weeds that need to be uprooted before we will all sink into anarchy.” “Some of them will not be among us,” the flier declared; “we will drive them out.” One of the right-wing students groups also filed an official complaint against the professors with the police.
Simultaneously, Limor Livnat, the minister of education, was called upon to intervene. Livnat did not hesitate, passing the names of the professors to the attorney general and asking him to check whether their letter constitutes “an incitement”and “an act of rebellion against the State.”
In response to the education minister’s threat, Anat Biletzki, a professor from Tel-Aviv University, organized an additional 225 professors who were willing to sign the letter, so currently there are more than 250 signatories from five different universities who support the refuseniks. “If the State chooses to indict professors for incitement,” Biletzki stated, “it should know that it is dealing with quite a few scholars, and that among the signatories are recipients of the Israel Prize [the most prestigious award the state bestows] as well as members of the esteemed Israeli National Academy of Sciences.”
Meanwhile, the empire struck back. Hebrew University’s president, Menachem Magidor, published an ad in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Friday, May 3, stating that the lecturers who back the conscientious objectors do not speak in the university’s name. The following Sunday, more than 100 professors from Hebrew University also published an ad, expressing their support for students who have served as soldiers in Operation Defensive Shield while condemning their colleagues who support conscientious objectors. Their ad was formulated in such a way as to lead the reader to believe that the refusenik supporters intend to give preferential treatment to students with whom they agree politically, while punishing those with whom they don’t. Among the signatories of this ad are esteemed liberal scholars like Avi Ravitzky from Jewish Studies.
None of these professors raised their voice when the Israeli military ransacked the educational infrastructure in the occupied territories, ruining computers, laboratories and libraries. They certainly did not publish a paid ad condemning these actions.
Neve Gordon’s essay “Terrorism in the Arab-Israeli Conflict” co-authored with George Lopez, recently appeared in the book Ethics and International Affairs (Rowman and Littlefield). He teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel.