Editorial Note

In May 2021, IAM reported on the “Committee of University Heads’ Complexities with Ariel University.” At the time, the Committee of University Heads (VERA) debated whether to admit Ariel University to its ranks. VERA is a voluntary group, yet it has made decisions with far-reaching implications for the higher education system in Israel. VERA has advised and liaised on university matters since the 1960s. The office of VERA deals with the administrative and logistical coordination, monitoring, and implementation, of the relations between VERA and the different regulatory bodies, such as the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education (VATAT-MALAG), Knesset committees, and government ministries, requests from student unions, the public, and others.

Last month, after a long delay, VERA admitted Ariel University to its ranks. When in 2012, Ariel College received university status, VERA, apparently out of concern for becoming a target of BDS, refused to allow Ariel to join its rank. Publicly, VERA explained that recognizing Ariel College as a university would strain the budget, arguing there was no need for more universities. VERA’s opposition fitted well with the objection of left-leaning groups that argue that a university located in a West Bank settlement could damage the international standing of Israel.

Radical leftists are still at it. Academia for Equality (A4E), a group of radical left-wing academics based at Tel Aviv University, posted an angry post on Facebook titled, “Dangerous Normalization of Occupation and Theft.” A4E wrote, “Like many in the academic world in Israel and worldwide, we were shocked to read about the decision to include Ariel ‘University’ as a full member of the Committee of University Heads. The very existence of this Institution, which stands on occupied territory and serves the population of the occupying state exclusively, is a war crime, an expression of a clear apartheid policy, and a heavy distortion of professional academic ethics. The legitimacy of such institutions degrades Israeli society and turns the entire Israeli academy into a legitimate target for a boycott. ‘Ariel University’ was founded with the political aim of supporting the settlements and a continuation of military occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Naturally, all scholars who oppose the establishment of settlements and the continuation of the occupation refrain from being faculty members and cooperating with it, and so do members of the international scientific community who share this principled opposition.”

But the worst reaction came from Adv. Michael Sfard, who used antisemitic verbiage to denounce VERA, Ariel University, and Jewish settlements.

“Rhinos On You Israel” by Michael Sfard was published a few days ago by Haaretz. Sfard borrows from the play Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco, written in 1959, on humans who succumb to a mass metamorphosis. Sfard states as follows:

“Smelling the stench that has hit Israel in recent days? No, it’s not the usual summer stench or a mountain of garbage not collected from the street corner. It’s much deeper—the stink of rhinos. A new (additional) herd has been roaming around Israel in recent days, trampling on carpets of solidarity and uprooting the shrubs of decency. Rhinos of academia and culture. They think they are beautiful deer, radiant with a refined aesthetic and inspiring to the world, but their actions indicate that they are rhinos devoted to the sewage. The news of the decision of the Committee of University Heads (“VERA”) to accept the demand of an institution called ‘Ariel University’ to be admitted to their committee passed almost unnoticed. After years of struggle by the Israeli universities against recognizing the Institution in the settlement of Ariel as an Israeli university (to tell the truth, this opposition stemmed only from the fear of reducing their slice in the budget cake, it is now clear). After several years of resistance not to admit the heads of the Institution of Samaria to VERA, the presidents of the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, Ben Gurion University, Weizmann Institute, the Technion, and the Open University (and of course, Bar Ilan University) not only reconciled with the Israeli Anschluss of the West Bank but contributed to strengthening it. They agreed to include in VERA an institution located on occupied and stolen land, which does not serve the non-Jewish residents of its surroundings (except, at best, as a labor provider for cleaners and gardeners). An institution part of a Settlement used to harm the liberties of the oppressed communities it surrounds. This way, VERA has turned its committee into a body that contributes to the project of deprivation and fixation of deprivation of fundamental rights from millions of people and is an active partner in deepening apartheid. From today, do not say the Heads of Universities of Israel, but the Heads of Universities of Greater and Jewish Land of Israel.”

He ends by saying, “The political dividends given by admitting Ariel to VERA, the silencing of critical voices in culture are all the asphalt used to pave a two-lane, modern and pleasant-looking road on the crime scene. And this way, Academics and Artists provide stamp approvals to the rotten occupation. May the people eat it for pleasure—woe to the smell. You stink, friends and the smell is hard to block. It sticks to you and will not erase. It will accompany you wherever you go. It is like the bloodstains on Lady Macbeth’s hands.”

Sfard, who litigates on behalf of Palestinians, is known for his theatrics. Still, his declaration is misleading in asserting that the Institution does not serve non-Jews. Sfard should be aware that thousands of Arab students have attended and graduated from Ariel University over time. Needless to say, Sfard had nothing to say about the Palestinian universities which do not enroll Jewish-Israeli students. More troubling is Sfard’s suggestion that VERA colludes with the Israeli “Anschluss,” a reference to the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Israel has recently adopted the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism which states that comparing Israeli policies to Nazi tactics is antisemitic.

On a different note, Sfard’s use of smelly, stinky elements is as puzzling as offensive.

Calling Israeli academics stinking and smelly just because you disagree with their actions is egregious. Would Haaretz ever publish an article in which the Palestinians are compared to smelly and dirty animals? Unfortunately, Haaretz is not the only perpetrator in a trend that calls Jews and Israelis highly odious names. Not coincidentally, the movement was pioneered by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the leading purveyor of antisemitism and antizionism, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In his Shiite theology, Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor as Supreme Leader have described Jews and Israelis as dogs, pigs, and unclean animals. While Jewish organizations worldwide have mounted a campaign to condemn the Islamists in Tehran, Haaretz and Sfard have indulged in antisemitic practices.