Israel Under Fire Over 'Restrictions' on Palestinian Academics — But What Is Truth?

MLA and ASA Resolutions Bash Jewish State

Noam’s Drama: Linguist Noam Chomsky was turned away by Israeli border guards when he tried to teach at a Palestinian university. How common is his experience?
getty images
Noam’s Drama: Linguist Noam Chomsky was turned away by Israeli border guards when he tried to teach at a Palestinian university. How common is his experience?

By Hody Nemes

Published January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In May 2010, Noam Chomsky, the famed linguist and left-wing activist, showed up at Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing, seeking to enter the Israeli-occupied West Bank from Jordan. For hours, Israeli border police questioned Chomsky, who was planning to lecture at Birzeit, a Palestinian university near Ramallah.

Then they turned him away.

Chomsky, a Jew and a harsh critic of Israel, claimed he was denied entry because of his controversial opinions and because he had chosen to lecture only at a Palestinian — not an Israeli — university. The academic, whose early linguistic specialty was Hebrew, compared Israel’s behavior with that of a “Stalinist regime.” But the Israeli government said a border official had simply made a mistake.

Today, Israel’s alleged travel restrictions on foreign academics are once again in the spotlight, following the Modern Language Association’s preliminary approval recently of a resolution condemning Israel for denying scholars entry to the West Bank. Last December, the American Studies Association went further, passing a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s alleged restrictions on academic freedom for Palestinians in the West Bank.

The two resolutions generated a storm of reaction, including condemnation of the ASA’s boycott resolution by nearly 200 universities, reported threats sent to the ASA and attacks on and defenses of both resolutions by prominent public figures.

Lost amid the media frenzy has been any clearheaded analysis of the resolutions’ claims. Does Israel, in fact, regularly bar from the West Bank scholars “who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities,” as the MLA resolution claims? Does it in particular bar “academics of Palestinian ethnicity,” and thereby disrupt “instruction, research, and planning at Palestinian universities?”

A review by the Forward of the claims and counterclaims — and of the evidence for each — reveals a paucity of hard data that could make the case for the resolutions’ claims. Still, scholars and experts who monitor the issue report numerous anecdotes and experiences that leave them, almost uniformly, with an impression that the problem is real. Some of them also cite Israel’s cumbersome and sometimes arbitrary visa renewal regime for foreign academics working with Palestinian academic institutions in the West Bank as an equally serious problem.

To be sure, this is not how the Israeli Embassy to the United States sees the issue. “The State of Israel does not place any restrictions on the entry of academics from outside the country or on partnerships between academics and Palestinian institutions,” reads a general statement on Palestinian higher education posted to its website. “Academics from foreign countries can enter freely, except in cases of exceptional security concerns.” The embassy declined to answer further questions about the issue.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.