HAIFA (JTA) — In the days leading up to her university’s long-delayed first semester, Yael Granot-Bein brought a group of Arab and Jewish students together.
Granot-Bein, who works in the University of Haifa’s dean of students office, had envisioned working with the students to come up with a way to demonstrate solidarity during a war that was testing bonds at the school, which enrolls the highest proportion of Arabs of any Israeli university.
“I said, ‘Let’s think together about a catchphrase that we can put on T-shirts and bracelets.’ In my mind, I had something like, ‘Let’s keep a diverse campus safe,’” Granot-Bein recalled. “They looked at me and were very honest and said, ‘Listen, that is not appropriate. We are not on the same page at all.”
It was a dramatic and disappointing conversation at an institution that has been a rare oasis of shared society in a country whose roughly 7 million Jewish citizens and 2 million Arab ones live in largely separate spheres. Except in a handful of cases, Jewish and Arab children are educated in separate schools until reaching university, and are generally more comfortable communicating in different languages.
At Haifa University, which resumed classes on Dec. 31 alongside the rest of Israel’s universities, Israeli Arabs make up half of the 17,000-person student body. In a typical year, Jewish and Arab students from Muslim, Christian and Druze backgrounds choose to study at Haifa in part for its reputation as Israel’s most diverse campus environment. In addition, Haifa is a cultural center for Arab Israelis and is known for a history of largely peaceful coexistence between its Jewish and Arab residents.
Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, however, the atmosphere on and around campus has felt different. In the weeks after Hamas’ invasion of Israel, the university took the unprecedented step of suspending eight Arab-Israeli students for posts on social media and WhatsApp groups that were deemed to be supporting terror.
This month, those students were allowed back on campus while their cases undergo a mediation process — sparking calls by some Jewish student leaders for a “day of disruption” in protest of that decision.
“We demand that they stay off campus until the process is completed,” Elad Asis, the student government president, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as he led a rally of dozens of students holding signs at the campus entrance at the start the second week of classes on Jan. 9. “It is not possible that students who supported terrorism will sit next to students whose family members were murdered on Oct. 7.”
According to Adalah, an Arab-Israeli legal rights nonprofit, more than 100 Arab students have faced disciplinary proceedings over social media posts related to the war, at least eight of whom were expelled.
The suspensions have had a sweeping impact at Haifa, where several campus community members had family members killed on Oct. 7 and one student’s parents were kidnapped by Hamas. A campus exhibition illuminates one candle for each of the dozens of graduates killed in action in Gaza.
“I understand their feelings,” Ron Robin, the university’s president, told JTA after meeting with the protesting students on the street. But he said he did not think there was a significant problem on the campus, adding, “I think that if there’s anybody in the university who has sympathy for Hamas I can count on one hand.”
About 1,500 Haifa students were called up to reserve duty as the Israeli army mounted its largest-ever mobilization in the days after the attack. Some of them have now returned to campus, carrying their guns per military policy as they navigate the new tensions. The university is recording classes for the time being, in part so soldiers on active duty can stay caught up; it is also awarding scholarships worth about $530 to all students called up to the army. Annual tuition is approximately $3,000.
“Someone told me that it felt good for her seeing me with my weapon and that it made her feel safe, and someone else saw my weapon and it allowed her to feel comfortable to talk about her difficulties during the war,” said Avinoam, 27, a reservist who is scheduled to alternate weeks between campus and serving on one of Israel’s borders with his army unit. (Per military policy, he shared his first name only.)
The sight of armed students across campus is less comforting for Annabell Sharma, an Arab political science student. Sharma said she was alarmed by the anger on campus about the nine students who had been suspended.
“It is possible that I will be assaulted, not necessarily physically, on the basis of nine students,” she said. She added, “Why bring a weapon to campus, when that is supposed to be the job of campus security? If someone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and decides to fire upon all of us, then what?”
The tensions at Haifa are far from unique. According to a November survey of Arab and Jewish Israeli students commissioned by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, most Jewish and Arab students fear the other, with around 20% of each feeling that fear to a high degree. The survey also found that nearly half of Arab students were considering not returning to campus.
The survey was taken weeks after Arab students were evacuated from the dorms at Netanya Academic College in late October after Jewish residents rioted outside, calling for “Death to Arabs.”
At Haifa, Sharma said she blamed the tensions felt by Arab students at Haifa on a small group of Jewish extremists who have in some cases doxxed and harassed Arab students for writing posts on social media and Whatsapp that they feel are disloyal to Israel. Sharma called the group of Jewish extremists “an obstacle,” and added, “fanatics on both sides need to be restrained without favoritism.”
Granot-Bein said that after the initial tension during her slogan-brainstorming session with students, she was able to resume her original plan by pressing the students to name things they all had in common.
“They said, ‘We want to study, we want to graduate and we want to move on with our lives,’” she recalled.
A boiled-down version of their message — “Continuing to study together” — can now be seen on staff T-shirts and thousands of orange bracelets worn by students across campus that were handed out by professors and volunteers during class breaks at the start of the semester.
Maya Negev, a professor of public health who was handing out bracelets near the main library, emphasized that all members of Israeli society reflected in Haifa’s population have stepped up during the war, from Druze soldiers to Arab Israeli nurses.
“Everyone in the [Department of Public Health] is helping a lot. A lot of Arab medical staff have been covering for Jewish colleagues who are out on reserve duty,” she said.
Medicine has long been one of the most integrated sectors of Israeli society. Hamada, a Muslim student in her final year of nursing school who declined to share her last name, said her medical training had prepared her to return to a wartime campus.
“I am not so afraid because I am used to working with a diverse group of people as a hospital worker, but I know that other students are afraid,” she said. “There is no tension for me here.”
She said an Arab-Jewish leadership course she took last year offered an example of how to build relationships. Once the students got to know each other, she said, “we were able to speak openly about everything from religion to politics to racism.”
Mona Maron, a neuroscientist and vice president for research and development who is one of the university’s most senior Arab-Israeli academics, said that even in the best of times, it can take time to break the ice between Arab and Jewish students on campus.
She was optimistic that the tensions of recent months would soon dissipate now that classes had begun.
“The first meeting of many of the Arab and Israeli students takes place on campus,” she said. “It’s true now that you see groups of Arab and Jewish students sitting separately.”
She added, “Come back in a few weeks and you will see them sitting together.”
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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
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