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?
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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.

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But supporters of the MLA resolution say the case against Israel’s travel policies for academics is clear. Supporting material submitted with the resolution includes articles about four educators denied entry to the West Bank, and a report (“Academia Undermined”) by Right To Enter, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization, describing the damaging effects of Israel’s entry policies on the quality of Palestinian higher education.

Opponents of the resolution have criticized the quality of this evidence. Russell Berman, a former MLA president and a leading critic of the resolution, termed it “woefully insufficient.” The Right To Enter report says that foreign academics are denied entry “widely, persistently and unaccountably.” But according to Berman, the interviews and anecdotes in the articles are no substitute for hard data.

“It’s really only the word of the opponents and the tendentious documentation,” he said.

Berman noted that three of the four entry denials cited in the articles describe incidents that occurred roughly five years ago. The only recent case presented is that of Nour Joudah, a Palestinian American teacher at Ramallah’s Quaker-affiliated Friends School who was twice denied entry to the West Bank in early 2013. (The Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, said Joudah failed to comply with its questioning, a claim she denies.)

Nevertheless, several independent experts contacted by the Forward confirmed that the problem of foreign academics being denied entry is both real and serious. These experts spoke from experience, interviews and impressions, but did not cite any data, saying they had not undertaken a systematic study of the subject.

“It is clear to me from a wealth of anecdotal evidence that the restrictions on access and movement range from the cumbersome to the severe and do inhibit the operation of Palestinian academic institutions in the West Bank and Gaza,” said Nathan Brown, a George Washington University political science and international affairs professor and president of the Middle East Studies Association. Brown, who stressed that he was offering only his personal views and not those of MESA, added, “I have not seen any sign that academic institutions are specifically targeted, but the effects can still be quite serious.”

Robert Quinn, executive director of New York University’s Scholars at Risk Network, an organization that protects the rights of scholars worldwide, said that his “personal understanding” is that Israeli entry policies “have had serious negative impacts on higher education in the Palestinian territories.”

“Without taking a view on the reasons for such policies, or the motivations of those implementing them, there are real, negative impacts which Israel, as a responsible state, has an obligation to attempt to prevent or mitigate,” he said.

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