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

(page 3 of 4)

Bill Van Esveld, Human Rights Watch’s Israel representative, said foreigners of Palestinian descent — including academics — have faced the largest obstacles to entering the West Bank. “None of this is specific to academics,” he said. “But it does apply to academics of Palestinian background as it would to anyone.” Israel particularly restricts entry of ethnic Palestinian visitors because of fears that they will join activist groups in the West Bank or seek to settle permanently in the area, he said.

At the MLA’s Delegate Assembly, critics of the group’s Israel resolution passed out leaflets arguing that Israeli restrictions on foreign academics are actually quite rare. The leaflet cited figures on the Israeli Embassy’s website showing that only 142 out of about 626,000 Americans were denied entry to Israel in 2012, a rejection rate of about .023%. By contrast, the United States refused 5.4% of Israeli applications for comparable “B” tourist visas in 2012, leading the critics to conclude, “The United States has a much more restrictive practice than Israel in this regard.”

That’s “nonsensical and invalid,” said Charles Shamas, a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer, referring to the .023% figure, as it does not break out how many of these visitors, like Chomsky, sought to enter the West Bank. Shamas, who helped assemble the Right To Enter report cited by the resolution’s backers, believes the rate of entry denials to the West Bank to be much higher. Additionally, “the 142 acknowledged cases involving U.S. citizens are part of a much larger number of cases involving foreign nationals,” Shamas said. (The MLA resolution, however, specifically condemns the treatment of academics from the United States.)

The Right To Enter report focused particular criticism on Israel’s practice of granting tourist visas for three months or less to visitors to the West Bank, including foreign academics. After three months the academics must reapply for a visa, which sometimes requires leaving and re-entering the country, and no guarantee that they will be allowed to return. Israeli entry policies are opaque and are often interpreted arbitrarily by border officials, according to Shamas and the report.

“You can’t imagine the psychological destruction that comes from leaving every three months and the expense that comes with it,” Roger Heacock, a history professor at Birzeit University, told Right To Enter. “We’ve been here 30 years, my family and me, but it’s been terrible. Really, it’s worn us down.”

According to Shamas, some academics know ahead of time that Israel will not renew their visas, so they simply depart the country, and might not be counted in the 142 people actually denied entry.

Critics of the MLA resolution argue that the renewal issue is blown far out of proportion. More than 90% of foreign academics’ renewal applications are approved, according to data posted on the Israeli Embassy’s website.

Shamas said that the renewal process — which he called “stressful and even Kafkaesque” — can deter academics from accepting positions in the West Bank in the first place. “They can’t tell if they will be permitted to complete their teaching contracts or their research,” Shamas said. “All of this makes it very difficult to recruit faculty, to plan academic terms.”

Palestinian University administrators interviewed by Right To Enter bemoaned the lack of foreign academics among their faculties. They say their schools need more foreign scholars to end dire teacher shortages, set up advanced degree programs and import cutting-edge teaching methods from abroad.


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!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • 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.