Dr. Yehuda Hayuth
Dr. Aharon Ben-Ze’ev
Dear Drs. Hayuth and Ben-Ze’ev,
The Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CAFMENA) is writing to you concerning disciplinary proceedings that we understand have been initiated against Dr. Ilan Pappe, a professor of history at the university. We are concerned that the threatened dismissal of Dr. Pappe from his university position is entirely disproportionate to the offenses he is alleged to have committed. It is our view that any decision by the university to impose such a penalty on Dr. Pappe would amount to inappropriate punishment for his vigorous advocacy on behalf of academic work that challenges prevailing historiography in Israel today, and his dissenting views on issues relating to Israel’s continuing military occupation of the West bank and Gaza Strip.
CAFMENA is a standing committee of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). MESA comprises 2700 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to promoting respect for principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the region.
According to information we have received, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University, Dr. Yossi Ben Artzi, has lodged a formal complaint against Dr. Pappe before the university’s Academic Disciplinary Court. Dr. Ben Artzi, as we understand it, also serves as the University Prosecutor, a position that we assume lends some force to his complaint. CAFMENA takes no position on the merits of Dr. Ben Artzi’s charges against Dr. Pappe, which allege that Dr. Pappe, in his defense and promotion of the masters’ history thesis of Mr. Teddy Katz against its critics, has intentionally and seriously damaged the reputations of Dr. Ben Artzi, the university, and others of its faculty. It is our view that the alleged offenses, if true, fall well within the realm of protected speech and advocacy in an institution dedicated to free academic and intellectual inquiry, and that Dr. Pappe’s alleged rudeness and misrepresentations should not be considered to have risen to the level of defamation that requires so drastic a remedy as that urged by Dr. Ben Artzi—namely, to bring to an end Dr. Pappe’s work in the university and his expulsion from the academic staff.
CAFMENA also takes no position on the merits of the charges that led the university to diisqualify Mr. Katz’s thesis, alleging that it suffered from grave problems of methodology and consequent fallacies. This thesis, which purports to document the occurrence of a massacre of Palestinians in the village of Tantura during the 1948 war of independence, reportedly received a grade of excellent before it was challenged in a libel suit by some surviving veterans of the brigade alleged to be responsible for the massacre. Dr. Pappe has eloquently contested the charges against Mr. Katz, in a manner that we believe requires a serious hearing, whatever offense it may have caused some members of the faculty. His advocacy, in any case, certainly does not merit punishment in the form of termination of his academic career. Any such step on the part of the university could only be understood as punishment for Dr. Pappe’s critique of prevailing historical memory in Israeli society. It will also be seen as punishment for his dissenting political views as reflected in his election to teach a course in an upcoming term on the events of 1948 from the Palestinian perspective of a nakba, or catastrophe, and his support for an international boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a form of protest against Israel’s continued military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
We are not familiar with the university code of conduct that Dr. Pappe has allegedly violated, nor with any precedents in terms of complaints and disciplinary conclusions that may serve as guidance in upcoming deliberations of the university’s academic disciplinary court. In the interest of protecting and promoting freedom of expression and academic freedom in Israel, we nonetheless strongly urge the university, in adjudicating and acting on Dr. Ben Artzi’s complaint, to refrain from imposing any sentence such as that advocated by Dr. Ben Artzi. Such a punishment would clearly violate standards of academic freedom and a commitment to freedom of expression that we believe should be the mark of renowned institution such as yours.
CAFMENA expresses its strong hope that the university’s academic disciplinary court, in its consideration of Dr. Ben Artzi’s charges, will, if it finds those charges to possess merit, choose a remedy considerably less drastic than that of dismissal from the university. We urge this out of deep concern for academic freedom in Israel and in Haifa University.
Anne H. Betteridge