Israeli Academics Face McCarthyistic Campaign

The Israel Police are weighing whether to open an investigation against Tel Aviv University Dr. Anat Matar, a leading member of Academia for Equality. saying her online eulogizing on Tuesday, April 9, the late Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka may constitute “support of and incitement to terror.”

Matar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, drew far-right condemnation after she paid tribute in a Facebook post to Walid Daqqa, an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel from Baka al-Gharbiyye who died of cancer at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center on Sunday at the age of 62. He was serving a life sentence for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of the soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. During his 38 years behind bars, Daqqa claimed to have changed his ways and to oppose violence. He became a prolific writer and was in contact with various Israeli intellectuals.

In addition, well-known actress and director Einat Weizman faced fascist anger on Wednesday for a post about Daqqa. “Walid Daqqa sat in prison and wrote and wrote — letters, short stories, articles, books,” wrote Weizman in her post. “He taught me what humaneness is, and what humane thought is, and his words and his writings were a part of my plays. The world without him is darker. The light has diminished.”

Dr. Anat Matar during a demonstration in solidarity with occupation refusers near Military Prison 6 (Footage: Social TV)

Far-right organizations demanded Matar’s dismissal and said the university authorities denounced her words and said it would investigate whether they were in “breach of freedom of speech policies.” Far-right Btsalmo Organization said it would file a complaint against the lecturer for violating the rules of discipline and also file a police complaint for violation of the Counter-Terrorism Law, and the fascist Im Tirtzu organization also demanded Matar’s immediate termination. Israel’s Education Minister, Yoav Kisch (Likud) told the university’s president: “I expect you to act as soon as possible and with all severity.”

However, Amnesty International said in a post following his death: “The death in custody of Walid Daqqa, a 62-year-old Palestinian author, who was the Palestinian prisoner who spent the longest time in an Israeli prison after 38 years of imprisonment, is a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard for the Palestinians’ right to life.” On Monday, Amnesty International demanded that Israel “return Daqqa’s body to his family without delay”

Students and Hadash activists in Tel-Aviv University, working side by side with Matar in struggles for justice and equality, stand with her against an orchestrated attack by right-wing organizations. “Everyone who was in Anat’s classes, who worked beside her, knows how this attack is far from reflecting the reality in class, work and conversation with her. McCarthyites, you will not silence us,” said.

In 2015, the Al-Midan theater in Haifa sparked controversy when it staged a play titled “A Parallel Time” about Daqqa’s life, leading the Culture Ministry to cut funding to the Arab theater and the Education Ministry to bar it as a school-sanctioned performance.

Another lecturer at an Israeli university is going on unpaid leave after far-right students demanded he be fired for signing an international petition against the war in Gaza. Dr. Regev Nathansohn, who teaches communications at Sapir College in Sderot, is one of dozens of Israeli academics who have signed the petitions calling for the United States to stop arming Israel in its war in Gaza. The petition, which more than 1,000 academics from around the world have signed said, “President Biden, do not let the United States go down in history as the enabler of genocide… Respect the US’s obligation under international law and basic morality. The only way to stop the starvation of two million people, including 100+ Israeli hostages, is to end this war.”

Nathansohn, who earned his doctorate at the University of Michigan, is one of at least five Israeli signatories who have faced intense backlash from far-right students, according to the petition’s organizer, Shira Klein, an Israeli history professor at Chapman University in California. She said the others are Eran Fisher of the Open University of Israel, and three lecturers at Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University: Michal Givoni, Maor Zeev-Wolf and Uri Mor.

Last March, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suspended Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian for denouncing Israel’s deadly war in Gaza during an interview. Shalhoub-Kevorkian had been under pressure to resign from the university since late October, when she signed a call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) writes to the Hebrew University in demanding it reverse its decision saying her suspension violated the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In its letter, ACRI argues that Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s comments, “while contentious, are protected under the right to freedom of expression, rendering her suspension an intolerable infringement upon academic freedom and constitutional rights.”

ACRI’s letter asserted that Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension “sends a chilling message to students and faculty members, particularly Palestinian students, suggesting that freedom of expression is only tolerated when it conforms to institutional narratives.”

According an open letter on behalf of over left-wing eight hundred academics, members of Academia for Equality, “we raise an urgent emergency alarm over the decision of the Hebrew University’s administration to suspend Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian from teaching duties due to her statements regarding the current war. Besides the extreme violence being meted out by the Israeli military on the Gaza Strip’s civilian population, other arms of the state are attempting to destroy Israel’s critical civil society and silence the voices of intellectuals opposed to the war and other Israeli policies, especially among the Palestinian citizens of the state.”

The letter, under the title: “Israeli Academia is Entering the Abyss”, says “Israeli law and university by-laws include measures which enable prosecution and disciplinary action against supporters of terrorism and racism. But the law and by-laws have not been used in the countless cases in which Jewish academics and students have incited to genocide in the Gaza Strip and violence against members of the academic community. On the other hand, due to pressure from government-adjacent fascist organizations and senior government ministers, since the war began, numerous procedures have been initiated against students and academics, both Arab and Jewish, who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and opposition to the atrocities committed in Gaza. Likewise, the steps taken against Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian contradict the university by-laws, which do not authorize the president or rector to suspend an instructor over speech, and the law, which does not prohibit the expression of such views.”