Letter to Prof Carmi, Ben Gurion University, Israel

Prof. Rivka Carmi
President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Office of the President
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
23 January 2010

Dear Prof Carmi,

We, Israeli, Palestinian and British academics, are writing to express our deep concern at the treatment of Dr Ahmad Sa’di, a Senior Lecturer at Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government, who was subjected to racist treatment on 3 January 2010 when he arrived at Ben-Gurion University train station, as he does every teaching week.  He was humiliatingly searched, yelled at and embarrassed by the security staff at Mexico Gate, which we find offensive and unacceptable.We believe that Dr Sa’di’s reaction on the date was exemplary; he did not block the entrance nor did he insult the security staff.

Following the incident Dr Sa’di complained to the university authorities on 3 January 2010 and again on 10 January 2010. Dr Sa’di strongly believes that his treatment at Mexico Gate on 3 January was only the last in a whole series of racist encounters and harassment he has faced in the past ten years of his employment at Ben-Gurion University. Other incidents included his car being stopped, his bags searched and security staff making calls to ascertain whether he should be allowed to enter the university.

We are extremely concerned that Dr Sa’di’s formal complaint about his treatment on 3 January has neither been looked into seriously by Ben-Gurion University nor been met with anything like a response that it requires from your institution’s senior management. Although Ben-Gurion University acknowledges that Dr Sa’di was insulted and humiliated on 3 January, no further disciplinary action were pursued.

Ben-Gurion University claims to be like other European universities. Yet the response by Ben-Gurion University is another indication of an entirely different sort of system where racism is accepted as routine.  Had a complaint of this nature been made in the UK, there would have been automatic suspension with pay of the individuals involved.  This would then be followed by an investigation by the university department of Human Resources. Yet the fact that Dr Sa’di complaint of racism was dismissed, almost instantly, by the Director of the Department of Security says volumes about your attitude to racism.  You simply are not taking this complaint of racism seriously and we emphatically object.
We also believe that Dr Sa’di’s treatment by Ben-Gurion University is very typical of a wide range of experiences of racist encounters made by Palestinian citizens of Israel, in their face to face, day in and day out confrontations with your security.  This makes life near impossible for many Palestinian academics teaching for Israeli institutions.  It also makes travel to international conferences difficult.  Academics moving in and out of other Israeli institutions have similar experiences to those of Dr Sa’di’s.  It is this that we find so appalling.  It dehumanises those who do some of the very best work.

We call on Ben-Gurion University to take measures preventing further harassment of Dr Sa’di and we hope you realise that such racist treatment and the lack of any serious redress by senior management at Ben-Gurion seriously damages the reputation of your institution and offends the international family of academics to the core.


Signed by

Professor Avi Shlaim, Oxford University, UK
Professor Nur Masalha, St Mary’s University College, UK
Dr Ronit Lentin, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland
Dr Paul Kelemen, University of Manchester, UK
Keith Hammond, Glasgow University, Scotland
Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, University of East London, UK
Professor Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University, New York, US
Professor Gabriel Piterberg, UCLA, US
Dr Nadje Al-Ali, SOAS, University of London, UK
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University, UK
Professor Elia Zureik, Queen’s University, Canada
Dr Laleh Khalili, SOAS, University of London, UK
Dr Stephanie Cronin, Oxford University, UK
Professor Mary Grey, St Mary’s University College, UK