Bar-Ilan or Bir Zeit?

A ‘gender’ conference at Bar-Ilan U. featured radical Arabs, anti-Zionist lectures and Nazi comparisons. Bar-Ilan denies politics are involved.

Gil Ronen ,

Bar Ilan University
Bar Ilan University
Israel News Photo: (file)

A two day conference at Bar-Ilan University on “Gender and Security” is causing an uproar in Zionist and religious circles. The two-day conference that ends Wednesday evening features a slew of anti-Zionist and radical leftist lecturers and appears to hint that IDF soldiers are comparable with Nazi soldiers. The critics charge that none of the lectures “balance out” the anti-Israeli slant or offer a pro-IDF angle, in what is supposed to be a non-political academic conference.

Zionist activists attended the conference and challenged the lecturers, leaving them speechless and eventually causing one of them to break out in tears on the podium.

In an e-mail message circulated among Land of Israel activists before the conference began, activist Chaim-Yoavi Rabinovich rhetorically asked if the conference was taking place in the religious Jewish university of Bar Ilan – or perhaps in the radical Arab campus at Bir Zeit.

Rabinovich noted that among the speakers scheduled to speak at the conference was Manar Hasan of Tel-Aviv University, with a lecture called “Following 1948: The Implication of the Destruction of the Palestinian City on the Status of Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel.”

'Israel's Rosenbergs'
Another Arab speaker, Ayda Touma-Suliman, was in the fifth slot on the Hadash party list for the 18th Knesset. Hadash is a largely Arab socialist party with communist elements. She is also the only female member of the Supreme Monitoring Committee of Arabs in Israel – a radical body that has issued calls for Israel to cease being a Jewish state.

Orna Sasson-Levy of Bar-Ilan University was to speak about “The Military as an Over-Gendered Institution.” Israel Academia Monitor, a watchdog site that follows extreme leftist academics, lists her as a signatory of a petition calling for the release of Tali Fahima, who was convicted and jailed for aiding terrorists.

Nimrod Shavit and Tamar Katriel of Haifa University were to speak about the “discourse” used by “Breaking Silence” – an organization that encourages soldiers to give damning testimony regarding alleged IDF misdeeds in Judea and Samaria and which conducts left-wing “tours” of Hevron. Israel Academia Monitor dubs Katriel and her husband Jakob (a prominent communist activist) “the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of Israel.” 

Nazi male bonding
The lecture program follows a pattern equating women with pacifism, while men are identified with militarism, right-wing politics and even genocide. Thomas Kuehne, an expert on the Holocaust who does research on the “male bonding” among Nazi soldiers at Massachusetts’ Clark University, was on hand to speak about “Male Bonding and Genocide Warfare.” Another guest lecturer, Michael Kimmel of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, spoke about “The Gender Politics of the Extreme Right in the USA.” 

Shelly Hoffman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was to address the subject of “Rape of Women During Wars and Women's Trans-National Advocacy Networks” whereas Merav Amir and Hagar Kotef of Tel-Aviv University would focus on the activity of anti-IDF group “Machsom Watch” in a lecture called “Mothers, Mistresses and Whores: When Resistance Collapses into Gender – The Case of Machsom Watch.”

Dr. Erella Shadmi of Beit Berl Academic College was to address the idea of “The Gift Economy” – a concept often linked with an ideology called anarcho-communism. Ronit Piso of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel chose as her topic “A Focus on the Women Behind the Camera,” and discussed leftist group B’Tselem’s Project ‘Shooting Back,’ which provides cameras to Arabs for filming actions by the IDF and Jews in Judea and Samaria.

A gender studies class at Bar Ilan University. Photo: Bar Ilan University website.

MK Eldad: Conference Undermines Israel
MK Aryeh Eldad blasted the conference in a letter to Bar Ilan University and Education Minister Gideon Saar. “The Council for Higher Education funds Bar Ilan University and not Bir Zeit because it believes that the university’s syllabus is in accordance with the aims of the State of Israel,” Eldad wrote. “From the look of this conference’s program, it seems that it seeks to undermine the State of Israel. This is an out-and-out anti-Israeli conference and if a similar one were held in a university outside Israel, the Foreign Ministry would protest and organize counter-demonstrations,” the National Union parliamentarian wrote.

Bar Ilan University denied MK Eldad’s charges. Its spokesman said that the conference is “a typical academic gathering in which the contents and lecturers were selected by an academic steering committee and approved by the Unit Head.”

“As long as the program is okayed by the authorized academic elements, the University management, which believes in academic freedom, does not get involved,” the spokesman explained. “In accordance with common practice, the conference’s organizers put out a call in advance asking for researchers to present their proposals for the gathering. The research was chosen based solely based upon on its scientific value and without regard for its political meaning, if such meaning exists.”

Tears on the Podium
A group of men and women with right-wing views showed up at the conference Wednesday in order to challenge the speakers. One of them, Tamar Har-Paz, said that the organizers were caught off-guard by her questions and that some of the leftists present tried to take her microphone away from her. Yoavi-Rabinovich asked Shelly Hoffman of Hebrew University if it is true that the leftist feminist groups that oppose sexual harassment are far more aggressive towards right-wing figures like Moshe Katzav than towards leftist men who are similarly accused. According to Har-Paz, Hoffman did not know what to say and began crying on stage.

Jewish love of brethren
Bar-Ilan University is the second largest university in Israel, with a student population of over 30,000 at the main campus in Ramat Gan and the four regional colleges operating under its auspices – in the Jordan Valley, Tzfat, the western Galilee and Ashkelon.

The university's website says that it "regards the sacred principles of Judaism as the manifestation of the Jewish people's uniqueness, in accordance with the principles defined upon its establishment. The university's basic roles include supporting the safeguarding of these principles out of love and with the purpose of training and producing scholars, researchers and men of science knowledgeable in the Torah and imbued with the original Jewish spirit and love of one's brethren."