Far-right Zionist organization Im Tirtzu recently published a list attacking 80 Israeli university professors they have deemed “anti-Israel”—professors critical of or opposed to Israeli occupation, some who support BDS, and others who merely express opinions that won’t fall in lockstep with the Israeli government’s opinions. The list includes personal information, which has many on the list fearing for their safety.
Earlier this year, Im Tirtzu helped disseminate a video that showed a Hebrew University professor, Dr. Carola Hilfrich, talking to a student who wore their Israeli Defense Forces uniform to class and was criticized for it. The video, which Im Tirtzu called “a new low in Israeli academia,” only showed a portion of the exchange, misrepresenting the conversation, and resulted in Hilfrich being harassed and calls for her to be fired.
The Real News Network’s Marc Steiner spoke to Dr. Hilla Dayan, who founded Academia For Equality, a global network of Hebrew-speaking scholars dedicated to issues of social and political justice, about a burgeoning right in Israel, and specifically how universities have mishandled this hard right turn.
“Im Tirtzu is not a new phenomenon. They were founded in 2006 and they’ve started with this tactic already then, so we’re speaking in more than a decade of an insistent practice of exposing, quote unquote, the lefty biases, especially focusing on academia,” Dayan said. “And so then the new list or the new website—which is absolutely unprofessional and full of mistakes—is nothing new. It’s actually been with us, these lists.”
Dayan stressed that in recent years especially, Israeli universities have not done their part to oppose groups such as Im Tirzu, primarily to gain favor with Israeli power.
“What’s happening at the university as part of the process in which universities are seeking the endorsement of the state, the endorsement of the military,” Dayan said. “Hebrew University is right now, as we speak, building a military base on campus, a move that we have opposed to and objected in any possible way, but still goes on and gives the army the possibility to actually build a base on campus. And these processes of militarization are going hand-in-hand with the university need to accommodate the right wing in power—or to not resist it, or not defend the very basic principles of academic life.”
Steiner mentioned that Im Tirtzu has implicit support from the government and is close to Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party—“they seem to be acting with impunity,” Steiner said.
“They have power directly connected to the Prime Minister’s office. This has been investigated and they are not a mass movement. I really want to stress that. They claim to be representing everyone right? Or particularly the common sense about Zionism, about not not willing to hear any kind of criticism of Israeli policies, but they’re actually quite weak in terms of their ability to mobilize people on campuses,” Dayan said. “They’re very well funded. They have about 20 people paid on big jobs, and they’re not really activists. They’re a propaganda arm. And that’s how we need to look at this phenomenon.”
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. Israel’s politics have continued to shift to the right, but for many reasons, the openly fascist label is rarely used. So, it may be surprising that an organization has been declared fascist, at some level, by an Israeli judge who ruled in 2013 that the organization Im Tirtzu had fascist characteristics. What does that mean? We’re going to explore that. This organization incites violence against what they consider the left. Recently, it published a list attacking 80 Israeli university professors that included their personal information, some people would argue, to incite attacks against them, embarrass them, or make them fear for their safety. The professors in that list have been critical of or opposed Israeli occupation and other policies. They supported BDS, some of them, the boycott movement against Israel or they merely expressed opinions that don’t fall in lockstep with the government’s opinions.
Our guest today is Professor Hilla Dayan, who founded Academia for Equality, a global network of Hebrew-speaking scholars dedicated to issues of social and political justice. She teaches comparative democracy and sociology of the other at Amsterdam University in Amsterdam and is an International Policy Advisor for the Coalition of Women and Peace. Hilla, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.
HILLA DAYAN Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER So let’s start with what’s going on here. The university faculty who expressed critical things of Israel have been put on this list that this organization put out. Am I saying it correct, Im Tirtzu? Is that right?
HILLA DAYAN Im Tirtzu, yeah, which is taken from a slogan of Herzl, the founder of classical Zionism, 19th century Zionism, if you will.
MARC STEINER Right It was a novel he wrote, a pro-Zionist novel he wrote back in that period, right?
HILLA DAYAN Yeah. They see themselves as, sort of, continuing the so-called, what they call, the Zionist Revolution.
MARC STEINER Got you. So yeah, that’s good. That’s important to know. Does this put these people at risk for vigilante acts by the university? I mean, has it become dangerous even for Jews to speak up in Israel? I mean, what’s the tenor of the moment? What’s happening here?
HILLA DAYAN Yes. The atmosphere is very heavy among 500 of our members who are organized in Academia for Equality, which, by the way, organizes also Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. You don’t need to have Hebrew, but it helps. In any case, the point here is that Im Tirtzu is not a new phenomenon. They were founded in 2006 and they’ve started this tactic already then, so we are speaking of more than a decade of an insistent practice of exposing “the lefty biases,” especially focusing on academia, especially trying to wreak mayhem on academic environments. The new list, or the new website, which is absolutely unprofessional and full of mistakes, is nothing new. It’s actually been with us, these lists, also with the help of other propaganda arms like NGO Monitor and other people who are making these lists. This is not something new. This is already going on for years, but the atmosphere is heavy because not because of Im Tirtzu, but because of the response of the top echelon of Israeli universities— what they are doing, what they are saying, and what they don’t do, especially.
MARC STEINER Well let’s talk about that for a minute. I mean, so how have the Israeli universities responded to this? I mean, have they responded to protect the faculty? Are the police involved in any way investigating any of this? I mean, has violence occurred because of this?
HILLA DAYAN Im Tirtzu is allowed to operate freely where there’s Israeli universities, as we know, because we monitor their oppression of and attempts to crush dissent. Israeli universities give full freedom for Im Tirtzu to operate on campus while, just this week, they’ve been trying in several occasions to prevent events to commemorate the Nakba, the Palestinian Nakba, for instance, on Israeli campuses. Eventually, these events did go on, but there is a constant imbalance here between the freedom that Im Tirtzu gets to do what it wants on campus, and the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association of anyone else. I think that what we see is, first of all, we have to understand that the people that they are listing most of the time were very proud of being on their list because they are actually listing our achievements in social engagement and political engagement in the attempt to create a more equal and humanistic future for this country.
But essentially, they also sometimes target— Many times they do this, they publish these lists, but they are very ineffective, so these lists are just, yeah. They’re good for nothing except for making people afraid of speaking out or appearing on this list. Every now and then, they book a success and the success is when they are really capable of destroying someone’s life, which they did very recently. A few months ago, at the Hebrew University, a very innocent and actually not politically-involved too much professor from the Cultural Studies Department had been shot illegally. I mean, there was a film shooting her speaking to a student in uniform. This film went, thanks to Im Tirtzu, directly to the news and all the major news outlets in Israel, including the evening news, as a film showing a university professor insulting or attacking a soldier in uniform. This was, of course, fake news. It was nothing of the kind happening. The result was—
MARC STEINER You said “fake news” because it didn’t happen? That was, that it was staged?
HILLA DAYAN What happened was, and there was an investigation of the department that completely cleared the professor from any such allegations, but the professor basically left the university with no, as far as we know, is not coming back. So, this was a devastating result of this kind of incitement. Not to mention, the recent—As soon as the list was published this week, we had a few number of members of ours who got for the first time, I think, who got really personal calls for incantation threats, that they will disrupt and cause mayhem for someone’s private life, and disrupt their classes, so this is an escalation.
MARC STEINER So the question I have is in the universities at this time in Israel—You know, across the globe, the right-wing always uses that the left controls the university and others are afraid to speak out, that the “patriotic” students in Israel are frightened to speak, but I’m curious. What is the situation on campuses and what’s the reality? I mean, it seems, I read an article the other day that just talked about how— I think it was in The Jerusalem Post, as a matter of fact— about how the majority of youth in Israel are moving to the right, not to the left. I’m just curious, what the situation is on campus and how real that is?
HILLA DAYAN What the situation is on campus is, as I described, is the total complicity of the heads of universities and the whole political, the whole top echelon of Israeli academia, with this kind of phenomenon, without curbing it, without setting red lines for when this becomes incitement and not a political debate because Im Tirtzu is not interested in any political debate. They are interested in intimidation and incitement against people because of their political and social engagement on a number of issues. But the point that I want to stress is that we have to look at it—The bigger picture is that when we speak about Israel, we have to speak about Israel-Palestine. Israel is, if you want to speak about real repression, we have to look at what is happening with Palestinian academia where there are military raids on campuses, where people are being arrested on campuses for any kind of activity, where there is repression of freedom of movement, where there is a real attempt to destroy the Palestinian academic system and education system in order not to allow—
MARC STEINER So I want to make sure I understand what you are saying here, Hilla. Are you saying that the military are doing this on campuses within Israel-proper, or are they doing it at Palestinian universities or against Palestinians?
HILLA DAYAN I’m speaking now about the occupied territories, but I don’t—
MARC STEINER Okay. That’s just what I want to make clear.
HILLA DAYAN But I don’t want to ignore that and definitely not ignore the part of the Israeli academia in complicity with these kinds of policies. Setting this aside, back to the so-called Israel-proper, we have to look at what’s happening at the university is part of the process in which universities are seeking the endorsement of the state, the endorsement of the military. Particularly, they’re militarized on a regular basis. Hebrew University is right now, as we speak, building a military base on campus— a move that we have opposed to and objected in any possible way, but it still goes on. It gives the army the possibility to actually build a base on campus and this process of militarization goes hand-in-hand with the university’s need to accommodate the right-wing in power or to not resist it or not defend the very basic principles of academic life in light of this escalation of attacks on academic freedoms in Israel.
MARC STEINER So finally, with this question here. Im Tirtzu seems to be mimicking stuff going on around the entire globe with the right-wing, but I’m very curious, do they have implicit or complicit support from the government in doing this? I mean, they’re not people in the organization that seem to be close to Likud, close to the party of the prime minister? And, they seem to be acting with impunity with this, so talk about that and also, what you think is the state of freedom of speech inside of Israel and what kind of resistance has taken place, if any.
HILLA DAYAN Yeah. I think that there is a lot of self-censorship that goes on. There is what we call “the chilling effect.” People see that. Not every time, of course, we were on these lists since 2006, so it’s not surprising to anyone to find his or her name on the list, but every now and then, as I describe, there is an incident in which you actually see the results of this kind of incitement and this does have enormous repercussions, basically, by creating a chilling effect on everyone. You don’t need direct repression. You only need to know that Im Tirtzu exists and other organizations are doing smear campaigns, shaming campaigns, and attacks. [inaudible] attacks on individuals. In order to know that if you want to have prospects at academia, you better shut up, you better not be involved, you better not stick out, and definitely not speak out for others. Academia encourages that, this kind of complicity. The environment, we know about, you know, the process of neoliberalization. Your capital is at stake and therefore, this has the effect on people that they just want to be very, very careful with everything that they say.
I would not say, I would describe it as McCarthyism because I don’t think this is quite the same as what you guys know from US history. I think that there was really an attempt of the university as an institution to allow the activities of Im Tirtzu because of the assumption, yes, that this is directly connected. They have power directly connected to the Prime Minister’s office; this has been investigated. They are not a mass movement. I really want to stress that. They claim to be representing everyone or particularly the common sense about Zionism, about not willing to hear any kind of criticism of Israeli policies, but they’re actually quite weak in terms of their ability to mobilize people on campuses. That’s one thing we have to remember. They’re very well-funded. They have about 20 people paid, in paid jobs. They’re not really activists. They’re a propaganda arm and that’s how we need to look at this phenomenon.
MARC STEINER That’s really an important point. Hilla Dayan, thank you for your work and I appreciate you taking the time today with The Real News. It really opened a lot of minds. Thank you so much for being with us.
HILLA DAYAN Thank you so much for the opportunity.
MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.