When Israel Shoots Itself in the Foot And Calls it Free Speech


Yesterday, I spent an interesting day at the Knesset with the Education Caucus (ועדת החינוך) debating a topic that really shouldn’t be debated.

Just when I thought Israel couldn’t be less suicidal in what it lets slide in the name of “free speech,” I find out about this:

Israeli universities, notably my university Hebrew University of Jerusalem, allow NGOs to run academic courses that involve volunteering for these organizations – in other words, working towards the demise of the world’s only Jewish state – as part of the credit requirement. These courses teach and encourage an anti-Zionist worldview. The problem is particularly bad in the Faculty of Law.

But it gets worse.

These NGOs, with their unlimited money supply from the EU and other foreign countries, provide scholarships to students who take these anti-Zionist courses through the Minerva Center for Human Rights.

The Universities are tied because the students are highly in support of these classes, especially because they may allow students to attend university who might not be able to otherwise.

The president of the Israeli Union of Students (a union that represents all the student unions at all the universities in Israel), spoke up in favour of this practice. He cited his experience as a commander in the army to legitimize his opinion and raise his “Israeli street cred.” He claimed that freedom of expression is important, and that these organizations do a lot to help Israelis and Palestinians who need it most, giving students an important source of funding for their education and allow them to engage in tikkun olam.

Among the organizations in question were:

  • B’tselem – an organization whose purpose is to photograph Israeli war crimes, known for deliberately provoking Israeli soldiers, filming their response, editing the film to make it look particularly bad, and spreading it around the world to add to the endless smear campaign against Israel
  • Gisha – a group that advocates for total freedom of movement for all Palestinians throughout Israel, including terrorists from Gaza
  • Hamoked – an organization that promotes the apartheid, genocide, and other false allegations against Israel, in addition to promoting the Goldstone Report and the dissolution of the Jewish State
  • Bimkom – an anti-Zionist urban planning organization whose executive director, Hedva Radovanitz, who has worked with other advocacy groups including Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and Shatil/ New Israel Fund-Israeltold U.S. embassy officials in February 2010 “that she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”
  • Baladna – an Arab youth organization that promotes the dissolution of the State of Israel through Palestinian “Right of Return”, supported Hamas during the 2014 war, and discourages Arabs from serving in the Army
  • Emek Shaveh – an archaeologically focused group that gets the vast majority of its funds from the EU, which promotes a narrative that Palestinians and Israelis are equally connected to the land and skews their findings to support their narrative

Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirzu, the Zionist student group whose delegation I was a part of, said:

“The time has arrived to put an end to the absurd in which political anti-Zionist organizations who are funded by foreign governments, enjoy the embrace and support of Israeli academia. The work that lets students gain academic credits for volunteering with B’tselem, Hamoked, and Baladna, is not just an embarrassment and shame on the part of academia, but also gives strength to the deligitimization against Israel from within. After bringing to light our demands, the examination by the committee concerning the problem of the politicization in academia, we hope that the political program will undergo a thorough evaluation and restructuring. The Im Tirzu movement won’t stop until this phenomenon of the politicization in academia ends.”

On our side we had members of Knesset Yaakov Margi (Shas), Amir Ohana (Likud), Yehuda Glick (Likud), and Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu).

The most poignant part of the whole thing was when terror survivors and parents of those murdered in terror attacks spoke up and told their stories.

“I cannot stand by and let the university that is getting the taxpayer money that I earn with my work, to support terrorists like the ones that killed my brother and son,” said Doron Mizrahi, whose brother was killed in the Café Hillel terror attack in which he himself was wounded in 2003, and who lost a son a few years later in another terror attack.

The survivors and family members who spoke are featured below posing with pictures of their loved ones who were murdered.

But these pleas by bereaved parents, who accused the university of supporting their assailants, fell on deaf ears. After the poignant speech by Mizrahi and others, the spokesperson for Hebrew University, who was present, compared these NGOs to organizations that support gays and refugees:

“A lot of people think it’s disgusting to help gays and refugees. Does that mean helping them is not the right thing to do? Does that mean we should stop having classes that promote gay and refugee rights?”

The prospect of having courses by NGO’s that are actively fighting against Canada or the US or France or Italy’s right to statehood, even though the former two were founded through a long history of brutal colonialism, seems unfathomable to universities in these countries. Why isn’t it equally unfathomable in Israel, the only country in the world whose existence is called into question?

A full recording of the Knesset proceedings is included below, in Hebrew:

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Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.