Colonial academic control in Palestine and Israel: Blueprint for repression?

Ronit Lentin

In Enforcing Silence: Academic Freedom, Palestine and the Criticism of Israel, eds. David Landy, Ronit Lentin, Conor McCarthy (Zed Books/Bloomsbury 2020)


In January 2018 the Israeli Knesset approved a bill bringing academic institutes in the occupied West Bank under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Higher Education Authority. According to Haaretz, the legislation is “one of a series of laws designed to enact creeping annexation of the West Bank and apply Israeli law to the settlements” (Zur 2018). The bill was enacted despite opposition by leading Israeli academics who warned that it would damage the agreement reached between Israel and the European Union to maintain the separation between institutions within the state of Israel and in the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and that it would lead to demands that Israel be removed from scientific cooperation programmes such as the prestigious EU Horizon 2020 programme (Zur 2018).

The key academic institution benefitting from this law is Ariel University. Founded in 1982, the Ariel University Centre of Samaria [1] became an independent college in 2004 and was granted accreditation as a university by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria in 2012. Ariel University is built on occupied Palestinian land, in the illegal colony-settlement Ariel, established in 1978 on Palestinian land declared “state land,” although under the Fourth Geneva Convention, building Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian or Syrian territory constitutes a war crime. [2] Israel’s commitment to double the size of Ariel University within five years is part of its plan to control the Israeli higher education sector both in the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 and within the State of Israel.

Bringing Israeli higher education institutions in the occupied West Bank under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Council for Higher Education was announced by former right wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett on their Facebook page in October 2018. Absurdly, Bennet said this was essential to ensure academic freedom and break “the universities’ cartel that had been in existence since the establishment of the state.” [3] The project of increasing state control over the higher education sector includes establishing the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre as Israel’s first private university, and approving the Ariel University medical school (Jaffe-Hoffman 2019).

This chapter begins by arguing that Israel’s attempts to control the academic sector are not new and that Israeli academia has always been complicit in upholding the colonization of Palestine in a variety of ways.  It then argues that controlling academic expression inevitably breeds resistance, internationally through the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) campaign, and nationally through “Academia for Equality,” established by Israeli academics concerned about the oppression of Palestinian academic institutions in the occupied territory and the state’s campaign against academic freedom in the Israeli higher education sector. The chapter concludes by arguing that, having successfully recruited Israeli academics as active collaborators in the colonization of Palestine, Israel’s campaigns of curtailing academic freedom in Palestine and in Israel is a resource, or a blueprint, for stymying academic freedom and free debate on the Israeli colonization of Palestine elsewhere in the world.

Israeli state control of academics and academic institutions in the State of Israel has several aspects. In order to consolidate state control over research and teaching, Israel does all it can to monitor dissent and free expression in Israeli academic institutions by, inter alia, closing down “left wing” departments and courses in Israeli universities. More seriously, Israel exercises surveillance and control over educational institutions in occupied Palestine by regularly raiding and closing down Palestinian universities and schools, disrupting the free movement of students and faculty, preventing the holding of international conferences, and not renewing the visas of Palestinian faculty with foreign passports, as discussed later. Israeli control of dissent within the state and the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) is then exported through its well-funded campaign of controlling critical discourse and spaces for debating its colonization of Palestine on campuses throughout the world. Monitoring dissent, I propose, imposes a colonial agenda on Israel’s higher education, making a mockery of the very principle of academic freedom.

Before I begin, it is worth noting that Western universities are key sites through which colonialism and colonial knowledge have been produced, institutionalised and naturalised, and that universities in the global north were founded and financed through the spoils of colonial plunder, enslavement and dispossession. As Bhambra et al (2018, 5) remind us:

It was in the university that colonial intellectuals developed theories of racism, popularised discourses that bolstered support for colonial endeavours and provided ethical and intellectual grounds for the dispossession, oppression and domination of colonised subjects. In the colonial metropolis, universities provided would-be colonial administrators with knowledge of the peoples they would rule over, as well as lessons in techniques of domination and exploitation. The foundation of European higher education institutions in colonised territories itself became an infrastructure of empire, an institution and actor through which the totalising logic of domination could be extended; European forms of knowledge were spread, local indigenous knowledge suppressed, and native informants trained.

Bhambra et al’s argument is relevant to my discussion of the colonial aspect of the Israeli academy. As a colonial European project, Zionism relied on academic knowledge to deepen its hold on Palestine and the Palestinians. Since the early days of the Zionist movement, universities were key to enabling the colonization of Palestine and the racialization of the Palestinians. As this chapter argues, Israeli universities and third level institutes of science and technology are central to the development of Israel’s weapons and security industries, the training of military and security personnel, and the provision of theoretical backing for the Israeli occupation, as argued by Israeli scholars Shir Hever (2009, 2018), Idan Landau (2017), and Eyal Weizman (2017). At the same time, the State of Israel exercises control and surveillance over academic institutions in occupied Palestine, curtailing academic freedom but also students’ and academics’ freedom of movement and the actual freedom to educate the younger generations of Palestinians at all levels.

Academic complicity in the colonization of Palestine

This section discusses four aspects of the complicity of the Israeli academy in the colonization of Palestine: the implications of a controversial ethics code imposed on Israeli higher education institutions; the ways in which the Israeli higher education sector upholds and supports the Israeli colonization of Palestine (Hever 2009); the control Israel exercises over Palestinian higher education; and the surveillance of dissent within the Israeli state itself.

Ethics as a means of surveillance

In December 2016 Israel’s then Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced a new ethics code for Israeli universities. The move followed the Minister prohibiting school visits by the Israeli soldier whistle-blower group “Breaking the Silence – Israeli Soldiers Talk about the Occupied Territories” [4] (Adamkar 2017); reprimanding teachers who criticize the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in class; and removing a novel depicting a love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man from the secondary school literature syllabus (The Guardian 2016). Bennett’s ethics code was particularly sinister because the academic charged with writing it, philosophy professor Asa Kasher, was the controversial author of the IDF’s 1994 ethics guidelines, The Spirit of the IDF: Values and Basic Norms (Roth 2016). In 2014, Kasher expressed satisfaction with the IDF’s conduct during Israel’s “Protective Edge” assault on Gaza in which 2,251 Gazans were killed, claiming that the IDF acted in accordance with their own belief in the supremacy of the lives of Israeli soldiers over the lives of “their” civilians (Matar 2016). The ethics code bans discriminating against lecturers or students based on their political views, prohibits participating in, or calling for, academic boycotts of Israeli institutions, bans “party propaganda” and the expression of a personal political view as that of the institution (Bachner 2018).

Palestinian-Canadian sociologist Elia Zureik (2016, 108-109) writes that surveillance is central to colonial rule and argues that as a settler colonial occupying power, Israel is more interested in surveillance, control, and exclusion ultimately aimed at appropriating the territory in which the colonized population resides than in population management. The effects of the ethics code remain to be seen, but the code’s guidelines would most probably necessitate drastically increased levels of surveillance.

Following the initiation of the academic ethics code, right wing Knesset member Oded Forer proposed a bill that would allow cutting state funding to Israeli universities that employ lecturers backing the academic boycott of Israel. The proposed bill, Forer told Haaretz, aims “to prevent a situation in which the state pays the wage of a professor who calls for a boycott of it. The bill doesn’t ban universities from employing such lecturers, but if they continue employing them they would fund them through private donations, not state funds (Lis 2017). At the time of writing the bill had not yet been enacted, but in March 2018 the Council for Higher Education decided to voluntarily adopt the ethics code, instructing Israeli universities and colleges to incorporate it into their disciplinary codes. Paradoxically, Minister Bennet disingenuously insisted that the ethics code promotes academic freedom rather than curtails it:

We must keep the world of academia free of politics and foreign interests. Complete academic freedom – yes. Promoting political agendas and calling for a boycott – no. We are in fact limiting the freedom of condemnation and increasing the freedom of expression, so the academic discourse in Israel remains free of politics and discrimination. At the gates of academia, leave politics outside (Yanko 2018). 

In fact, the voluntary adoption of the controversial ethics code is in line with the long history of collusion by Israeli universities in the colonization of Palestine. According to Israeli sociologist Uri Ram (1993, 10), the Israeli academy has always been central to Zionism’s statist approach advocated by its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who regarded the state as the source of institutional authority and moral inspiration. Academics were mobilized as agents of statism and were instrumental in constructing policy, and in turn the state funded the universities and accorded them prestige. Academics in the pre-state Yishuv and later in the state of Israel have always been centrally involved in maintaining white European Jewish supremacy, and in policies of colonization, Jewish immigration, forging Jewish identity and denigrating “Israeli Arab” identity, the 1948-1966 military government regime, and Zionist land ownership. Since the 1967 occupation, academics have become ever more central to policies of occupation, segregation, domination and military prowess.  

The ongoing collusion of Israeli academia in the Zionist project

According to the Israeli economist Shir Hever (2009), Israeli academia colludes in the colonization of Palestine in several ways. To start with, Israeli academic research and development has been servicing the Israeli armed forces and security industries by developing weapons and security systems, by training military personnel and by contributing to Israel’s lucrative weapons and security exports (see also Katz 2007; Landau 2017).  

What comes to mind here is the concept of the “military-industrial-complex,” first coined by US president Dwight Eisenhower in their 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which they warned that “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” [5] Interestingly, Henry Giroux (2007) claims that the speech originally used the term “military–industrial–academic complex.” Though arguing that Eisenhower saw the academy as part of the complex, and that the warning was prescient for twenty first-century America, Giroux defends the university as one of the few public spaces capable of raising important questions and educating students to be critical and engaged agents.

Israeli anthropologist Jeff Halper (2013, 3-4) argues that Israel transforms “its military and securocratic prowess into political clout in pursuing… ‘security politics’.” The occupied Palestinian territory, Halper writes, serves as a resource for Israel as a testing ground for the development of weapons, tactics, security systems, and models of population control without which Israel would be unable to compete in international arms and security markets.

However, Israel’s weapons and security industries would not be as successful without the active collaboration of academics and universities, on which these industries depend. According to Hever (2018), the recent crisis in the Israeli arms export due to the collapse of the concept of the Occupied Palestinian Territory as the “laboratory” for Israel’s military technology, and the parallel crisis in the Israeli academy, due to the impact of the BDS movement, have led to both the academic and the security elites seeking to join forces and apply jointly for government funding. Hever cites Major General Professor Isaac Ben Israel, a member of both elite groups, who says that the security system funnels large amounts of money for the development of information technologies to the universities. Academia is also the main provider of training for the arms industry, training thousands of engineering and science students in the security system’s R&D centres, and they later return to the civilian market, thus consolidating the relationship between the security industries and the universities.  

Academics also provide theoretical grounding for new IDF warfare modes. Israeli forensic architect Eyal Weizman (2017, 187-192) cites the example of Tel Aviv University philosophy professor (and retired IDF brigadier-general) Shimon Naveh, who was instrumental in designing the IDF’s “swarming” mode of urban warfare, a non-linear polycentric strategy first developed by the US army, and a central component of the IDF’s attacks on refugee camps and densely populated urban centres in the OPT. In Yotam Feldman’s documentary The Lab, Naveh is filmed boasting of having designed a phantom city in the southern Negev region, where the IDF practices urban warfare. [6]

Hever also outlines the public support by Israeli universities for student soldiers (including those serving in Israel’s 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 attacks on the Gaza Strip), who receive grants, extra exam dates, and extra credits for their army reserve duty (Gravé-Lazi 2018). This discriminates against Palestinian students, most of whom, with the exception of some male Druze and Bedouin Palestinians, are not conscripted to the IDF and are thus not eligible for university grants and deferred exam dates available to serving Israeli student soldiers. [7]

Furthermore, all Israeli higher education institutions provide training programmes for military and security personnel. On the lowest level, the Israeli College for Security and Investigation prepares graduates to work in Israel’s multi-faceted privately run security industry. [8] More prestigious institutions – such as the flagship Command and Staff College (PUM), which provides both military and academic training programmes in several Israeli universities and colleges – enjoy closer relationships with the security and secret service agencies.

An example of the universities’ deep involvement in military training is the tender won in April 2019 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) to host the IDF’s Havatzalot training programme for military intelligence officers. According to Academia for Equality, this means that the IDF would establish a highly secured military installation on campus with an armed force deploying surveillance technologies that may affect everyone on campus; that the personal details of all university employees related to the programme would be available to the IDF; that hundreds of uniformed and armed soldiers in departments of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Political Science and Philosophy would receive preferential treatment including a commitment that only high-ranking tenured lecturers would be allocated to the programme, effectively discriminating against civilian students; that programme commanders would be allowed to intervene in the soldiers’ academic performance; and finally, that high-ranking army officers would attend classes and affect their contents. [9]

Hever also argues that several Israeli universities are already directly involved with the occupation. Ariel University has been party to Israel’s highly lucrative arms and security industries through partnering with weapons manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in joint research employing nanotechnology to develop miniature satellites. [10] Another example is HUJI’s Mount Scopus Campus, which is partly built on Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem. Its buildings and facilities were expanded after Israel’s 1968 illegal confiscation of Palestinian lands, and used to build car parks and student dormitories, and the university’s presence stimulates settler activities in occupied East Jerusalem. HUJI benefits from settlement infrastructure, transport lines and access roads in the occupied territory, some of them on privately-owned Palestinian land. [11]

Besides benefiting from the occupation, Israeli universities play an active role in forming occupation policies. A notorious example is the Haifa University professor of Demography and Geo-strategy Arnon Sofer, who has authored policies relating to the West Bank Separation Wall, the Palestinian Right of Return, and what Israel’s “demographic problem” – the high birth rate amongst Palestinians. Sofer’s comments on Gaza are typical of Sofer’s demographic outlook:

We will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire ten in response. And women and children will be killed and houses will be destroyed… it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will be even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam… So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day (Abunimah 2006, 85-86).

Another example of the collusion by the Israeli academy in the colonization of Palestine outlined by Hever is the practice of parachuting high ranking IDF officers into academic posts. [12]

Hever concludes by arguing that Israel curtails academic freedom by regularly raiding and closing down Palestinian universities and colleges in the West Bank and bombing educational institutions in Gaza,  and by setting limits on the academic freedom of individual academics within the state of Israel itself as argued later.

Controlling Palestinian academics and students

Unsurprisingly, the highest level of control and surveillance in Israeli universities has been and continues to be exercised against Palestinian academics and students. According to a 2013 report, “Pluralism and Equality of Opportunity in Higher Education: Extending Access to the Academy for Arab, Druze and Circassians in Israel,” [13] Palestinian students in Israel face many barriers to accessing university education. These include low proficiency in Hebrew and English, insufficient preparation for university entry exams, accessibility (many Palestinians live far away from Israeli universities and colleges), economic difficulties, and Palestinian students’ relatively young age compared with Israeli Jewish students who begin university after their military service. Due to occupational barriers, Palestinian students tend to study medicine and nursing, pharmacy, natural sciences and engineering. Barred from many government posts and prevented from taking degree courses such as geography for spurious “security reasons”, many Palestinian students take less challenging and more politically safe courses, ending up in professions that do not require military service or security clearance (Abdo 2002, 135-139).

Politically active Palestinian students in Israeli universities are often harassed. One example was the September 2014 notice served by the Hebrew University to twelve Palestinian students who participated in an “unauthorized demonstration” that the students insisted was a “spontaneous gathering” in response to the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Though not the first time HUJI was accused of limiting Palestinian students’ freedom of expression, this time the university targeted individual students rather than political groups. According to 24-year-old law student Riham Nassra, this “can end in suspension, probation or even expulsion… They probably think that personal targeting will serve as a more effective deterrence” (Younis 2014).

In the OPT Israel routinely raids and closes Palestinian higher education institutions. On 14 July 2018 the Israeli police closed down the Hind Al-Husseini College and Al-Quds University’s College of Art in occupied East Jerusalem, and banned the holding of a two-day conference organized by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf and Heritage Society on the status of Muslim endowment and property, detaining 15 conference participants. The move was condemned by the Arab American University president, Ali Abu Zuhri, who said that the Israeli occupation aims to obstruct the educational system and prevent the teaching of Palestinian curricula, imposing the Israeli curriculum in an attempt to change Jerusalem’s cultural and historical identity. [14]  In 2019 the UN refugee agency for Palestinians said Israel was planning to replace UNRWA-run schools in occupied East Jerusalem with schools run by the Jerusalem municipality, teaching the Israeli curriculum which is alien to Palestinian Jerusalemites, and eroding Palestinian educational autonomy, further extending Israeli colonial control (Al Jazeera 2019).

Equally damaging is the Israeli policy of imposing entry and residency restrictions on international academics with US or European passports working in Palestinian universities. In June 2018 Israel refused to grant visa extensions to seven international Bir Zeit University academics; several others had already been forced to leave the country. International academics seeking to work in the OPT have long faced obstacles, and the situation has dramatically worsened since 2017. [15] A Palestinian Ministry of Education survey of Palestinian universities found that over half of all foreign staff in eight universities have been negatively affected in 2017 and 2018, causing serious disruptions to academic programmes and university administrations, and undermining Palestinian universities in attracting external expertise. According to Israeli Law Professor Daphna Golan (2018):

Without international researchers, universities experience a “ghettoization of knowledge.” Many deported foreign academics are Palestinians who studied in the US or Europe… Israel … makes the entry of Palestinian academics who study abroad near impossible, permitting them to teach in Palestine for only five years. Deporting Palestinian lecturers will inevitably cause the slow destruction of Palestinian universities. 

Controlling dissent in Israeli universities

State control extends beyond occupied Palestine to the Israeli higher education sector itself, where dissenting academics face high level of surveillance and are often penalized by their universities. Probably the best known example is the “new historian” Ilan Pappe, whose work on the 1948 Nakba brought him into conflict with his employer, the University of Haifa. Pappe (2010) writes about a Master’s thesis by Theodore Katz who documented the 1948 massacre of the inhabitants of the Palestinian village Tantura. The thesis was challenged by IDF veterans interviewed as the perpetrators of the massacre and was eventually rejected by the university. Pappe’s support for Katz and the hostile reactions to their own solidarity with the 13 Palestinians shot to death by the Israeli police in October 2000 eventually made them realize that working in the University of Haifa was no longer tenable. In 2002, Pappe was summoned to appear before a university disciplinary committee. Accused, like other Israel-critical academics, including Steven Salaita (discussed by several contributors in this volume), of non-collegial, uncivil behaviour. Pappe insisted that the charges were not about “incivility” but rather about denial of academic freedom. Although the disciplinary committee ultimately dropped the complaint, Pappe’s family members were harassed for a long period following the hearing. When death threats and abusive phone calls and letters became a regular occurrence, and after Pappe’s endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel led to the university president calling for their resignation, Pappe did in fact resign. Unlike the Palestinian-American Salaita, [16] who was unable to secure an academic position, Pappe, a privileged white Ashkenazy Jew, was able to find a professorial job in Britain.

Two more recent examples: first, when Israeli Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon called to boycott Israel in a Los Angeles Times article in 2011, they were heavily criticized by the university administration; they now work in London (Breiner 2011). Second, in February 2019 Palestinian Hebrew University Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian lectured at Columbia University on Israel using Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian children in drug experiments. Shalhoub-Kevorkian said that “Palestinian spaces are laboratories for the Israeli security industry, [they] are using them as showcases,” and argued that the Israeli occupation authorities issue permits to large pharmaceutical firms to carry out tests on Palestinian prisoners, and that Israeli military firms are testing weapons on Palestinian children and carry out these tests in Palestinian areas in occupied Jerusalem. In response, former Education Minister Bennett called for Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s dismissal, saying that “It’s a shame that an Israeli lecturer in Israeli academia is slandering IDF soldiers around the world.” In its own statement, HUJI distanced itself from Shalhoub-Kevorkian and said their opinions “do not represent or express those of Hebrew University or its administration in any way” (Moshe 2019).

Resisting academic control: PACBI and Academia for Equality

One response to Israeli universities being willing accomplices in Israel’s colonial regime and the suppression of Palestinian academics, students and universities was the launch in April 2004 of the international Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals in Ramallah, occupied West Bank, discussed in detail in the introduction.

Within Israel, the clampdown on academic freedom and the suppression of Palestinian universities, academics and students prompted a group of Israeli academics to resist academic surveillance and control by forming Academia for Equality. The group, which numbers some 400 Israeli academics, argues that Israeli universities collude with state policies, particularly the occupation. As a first step, it published “Complicit Academy,” [17] a database of Israeli and international newspaper articles, documents, NGO reports and official university publications, with the aim of “shedding light on Israeli universities’ repression of dissent, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian-Israeli students and faculty, collusion with the settlement enterprise, military R&D, and hasbara” (Konrad 2018).The database shows how, contrary to its “liberal” image, Israeli academia works in the service of the racial state’s permanent war against the Palestinians (see Lentin 2018). It demonstrates the growing number of university programmes designed to battle the “delegitimization” of the State of Israel, state racism against Palestinian students and faculty, and Israeli universities’ role in researching, manufacturing and marketing Israel’s hugely lucrative arms and security industries.

Though Academia for Equality does not support the academic boycott of Israel as policy, the group regularly protests against the state of Israel and against universities abroad silencing academics who criticize Zionist policies. Thus in October 2018 the group sent a letter to the University of Michigan protesting against UM penalizing professor John Cheney Lippold, and teaching assistant Lucy Peterson, both of whom refused to write references for a student wishing to study in Israel. [18] In April 2019, Academia for Equality published a public letter protesting the militarization of the Hebrew University following the establishment of the Havatzalot project mentioned earlier, [19] and among its other activities, the group protested the jailing of Turkish academics, [20] and the raiding of the West Bank Kadoorie College. [21] However, while Academia for Equality is an important, albeit minority, protesting voice against Israel infringing academic freedom and silencing dissent, it seems that most of its members ultimately aim to reform the Israeli academy, rather than transform it into a site of anti-Zionist action.

Conclusion: Blueprint for global control of academic freedom?

This chapter argues that understanding the suppression of academic freedom and dissent by the Israeli government in Israel and in Palestine is central to understanding the silencing of criticism and dissent as debated by contributors to this book, because, as this conclusion shows, suppressing dissent starts with Israel and its Zionist US and European supporters. My argument is that Israel’s ongoing campaign of controlling dissent in Palestine’s higher educational institutions and in Israeli academia should be understood as a resource, perhaps even a blueprint, for exerting control over the academic freedom to debate and criticize its permanent war against Palestine, and to discuss the validity of BDS and the academic boycott worldwide. The chapter further argues that just as resistance to surveillance and control of academic freedom in Palestine and in Israel is intensifying, so resistance, particularly through PACBI, but also through groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and a variety of pro-Palestine academic organizations, is increasing, despite Israel’s relentless and well-funded campaign to control critical discourse and silence dissent. While Israeli universities have always been central to upholding the colonization of Palestine, and while Israel’s hasbara efforts to justify its policies have always existed, in recent years, with the growing success of the BDS movement, the campaign against dissent and criticism has intensified as this conclusion details.

In 2014 the University of Haifa launched the first academic programme aiming to combat the online “delegitimization of Israel.” Programme students, the university said, were being prepared “to be unofficial ‘ambassadors’ for Israel on the Internet.” The programme was initiated in the wake of Israel’s 2014 Gaza war and the university lists among its “achievements” an operation room that “propagated the reality in Israel during the Gaza war,” initiating “propaganda delegations abroad,” and creating “viral memes” (White 2014).

Though typical of Israeli initiatives aimed at combatting dissent and campaigning against BDS, the University of Haifa programme predated the establishment of the official anti-BDS campaign masterminded by the Ministry for Public Security, Information and Strategic Affairs, [22] which was granted a 72-million dollar budget while also calling on American Jewish communities to set up parallel not-for-profit organizations to oversee the first “civil society infrastructure servicing the state of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby to fight against the delegitimization of Israel” (Forward 2017). 

The depth of Israel’s commitment to the anti-BDS campaign was revealed in June 2019 by Haaretz gaining access to the 2018 diaries of Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan (Landau 2019), disclosing the Minister’s collaboration with the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) in the fight against the BDS movement. Erdan’s diaries also show meetings with representatives of numerous international Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress, the umbrella organization of French Jewry, and the US Reform Movement. The meetings focused on establishing a “public benefit corporation” which received 128 million shekels (about 36 million US dollars) in Israeli government funding and was set to collect 128 million shekels in private contributions.

As part of its campaign against pro-Palestine activism, the Israeli government supports right wing groups such as the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, which reports on the output of international NGOs from a pro-Israel perspective, and whose tactic of aggressive surveillance has led to these groups being accused by an Israeli report of “spearheading the shrinking of space for Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs” (Middle East Monitor, 2018). In January 2018 Israel published a list of 20 pro-Palestine organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign), whose members are now prevented from entering the country due to supporting BDS (Eglash 2018).

The involvement of Israeli diplomats in pro-Israel groups in Britain and the US was revealed by Al Jazeera’s four-part documentary series The Lobby, focusing on Britain. [23] A subsequent US series, produced by an undercover Al Jazeera reporter who infiltrated pro-Israel US groups such as “The Israel Project” and “Emergency Committee for Israel,” was censored by the Qatari government as part of its attempt to win the support of Jewish American organizations, demonstrating the depth of interference by the State of Israel against any criticism (Tibon 2018). 

US Groups such as Campus Watch and Canary Mission, the latter dedicated to documenting “people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses,” [24] are directly involved in surveillance of pro-Palestine campus activities. Though Campus Watch is purportedly “a project of the Middle East Forum, (that) reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them,” [25] it has long been accused of being a pro-Israel group involved in harassing, blacklisting, and intimidating academics critical of Israel. However, the collusion of the Zionist lobby in silencing dissent in academia is nothing new. In “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”, Mearsheimer and Walt (2006) wrote that the Campus Watch website was established by neoconservative academics Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes in order to post dossiers on “suspect” academics and encourage students to report remarks or behaviour considered hostile to Israel, with the aim of monitoring what professors write and teach. Without the Israel lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt insist, the relationship between Israel and the US would not be as intimate as it is.

In October 2018 the Israeli government proposed legislation that would subject Israeli and foreign activists promoting BDS – including the academic boycott – to prison terms of up to seven years (Lis 2018). If enacted, it would illustrate the centrality of the campaign to silence dissent within Israel and Palestine to Israel’s international campaign to control academic freedom and shut up criticism on campuses throughout the world, as contributors to this book demonstrate.

[1] Samaria is a biblical name that together with Judea is used by the state of Israel to name the occupied West Bank.

[2] (accessed 16 September 2018).

[3] (accessed 14 October 2018).

[4] (accessed 25 January 2017).

[5] (accessed 23 September 2019).

[6] (accessed 12 October 2018).

[7] Though Palestinian citizens make 21 per cent of Israel’s population, they constitute 16.1 per cent of undergraduate students, 13 per cent of graduate students, 6.3 per cent of PhD students (Lieber 2018), and just 2-3 per cent of the academic staff in Israeli academic institutions (Hager and Jabareen 2016).

[8] (accessed 10 February 2019).

[9] Academics%20for%20Palestine/Hebrew%20U-IDF%20letter_final.pdf (accessed 12 April 2019).

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[11]. See “No Academic Business as Usual with Ariel University,” a PACBI Campaign for Non-Recognition of and No-Ties with Ariel University, (accessed 12 April 2019).

[12] For instance, ex-Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch whose part in overseeing the legal justification of Israel’s bombing the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009 did not stop Tel-Aviv University from appointing her as a law lecturer (Hever 2009).

[13] Published by the Abraham Fund Initiative: Building a Shared Future for Israel’s Arab and Jewish Citizens (accessed 12 March 2019).

[14] (accessed 28 October 2018).

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[18] Facebook post, 23 October 2018 (accessed 23 October 2018).

[19] (accessed 16 September 2019).

[20] (accessed 17 September 2019).

[21] (accessed 16 September 2019).

[22] (accessed 23 October 2018). The Ministry for Strategic Affairs, Information and Public Security replaces the Ministry for Public Security, in existence since 1948 to deal with matters of internal security.

[23] (accessed 24 October 2018).

[24] (accessed 12 April 2019).

[25] (accessed 24 October 2018).