Four members of the Israeli left-wing organization of university and college lecturers, “Academia for Equality,” traveled to Istanbul in January to bear witness to and protest political trials being conducted against about 150 Turkish academics. The latter are facing terrorism-related charges for signing a petition opposing their government’s assaults against its Kurdish citizens, including the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and reports of massacres.
Turkish academia has been decimated by the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following a failed coup attempt against it in mid-2016. Since then, some 9,000 academics have been purged from universities throughout the country, including 500 who were fired from their positions for signing the petition against the government’s policy towards the Kurds. Following their dismissals, it is virtually impossible for them find work, and many are forbidden from traveling abroad.
The 150 or so trials, which officially began on December 5, 2017, are scheduled to continue through May 2018. The indictments are almost identical: “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization,” which comes with a maximum prison sentence of seven and a half years.
The group of Israelis also joined their Turkish hosts at demonstrations on January 29 and 30 outside the Çağlayan Justice Palace — the largest courthouse in Europe — in the bustling Şişli district of Istanbul. At the request of the Turkish group, the Israelis held a press conference.
Yaara Benger Alaluf, an Israeli academic based in Berlin who traveled to Istanbul as part of the delegation, spoke there of her solidarity with the persecuted academics, and tied their situation to the struggle for academic freedom in Israel and Palestine and against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.