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!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.