Haifa University and the “Demographic Problem”

Report by Avraham Oz
Published: 22/05/05

comment from Moshe Machover:

Dear Friend,

The following message from Prof Oz of Haifa University is long, but well worth reading. In my opinion it provides ample evidence justifying the AUT institutional boycott against Haifa U.

On this point, I disagree with Oz’s judgement. He is right in pointing out that Israel’s reaction to the boycott is a reinforcement of the persecution complex: “The whole world is against us...”. This is only to be expected. Israeli-Zionist ideology has always used the self-righteous victimhood complex as a pretext for oppressing its own victims. In this it is by no means unique (cf. the ideology of Serb chauvinism).

But this doesn’t mean that the boycott cannot achieve useful results: wait until it really bites. And, in any case, why should the world pander to Zionist ideological psychopathology?

ATB, M Machover

comment from Greg Dropkin:

In exposing the racist conference at his university, Avraham Oz points out “Needless to say, no Arab speaker: after all, are the patients taking part in medical conferences?”. By the same logic, is it sufficient to examine how Israeli academics and the State of Israel are reacting to the boycott, as Prof. Oz does, or should the voices of Palestinian academics be heard as well? They continue - quite strongly - to call for a boycott. Trade unionists in Britain can respond to their call and prioritise their viewpoint in solidarity, even whilst knowing that some honourable Israelis, like Prof. Oz, disagree with the tactic. It's Palestinians who are on the receiving end of the Occupation and institutional racism.

Dear friends,

First, a warning, derived from TV news reports I watched with the years: those with weak stomachs, please refrain from reading this update.

What would you say if in a university, say, in New York, would hold an academic conference called “The Demographic Problem in New York”, and, perusing the list of presentations you will realize that the “problem” dealt with refers exclusively to the scary proliferation of Jews in New York?

Unimaginable, right?

Well, please note the date of this update. In my (currently boycotted by the AUT) university, a conference was held today, entitled “The Demographic Problem and the Demographic Policy of Israel,” organized by the Herzl Institute for the Study of Zionism, The Reuven Hecht Estate, and the Chair for Geo-Strategy. In my update from April 12th, I have provided some links as to the identity of the carefully selective list of speakers in that conference:

Professor Yoav Gelber, Head of the Herzl Institute, University of Haifa
(Please look up the following:

Professor Arnon Sofer
(Please look up the following:

Mr Harry Zesler, representative of the Hecht Estate
(Please look up the following:

Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, Rector, University of Haifa
(Please look up the following:

General (res.) Uzi Dayan, Head of the Zionist Council, initiator of the “Apartheid Wall”
(Please look up the following:

General (res.) Herzl Gedge, Head of the Population Administration, Ministry of the Interior:
(Please look up the following:

Dr Yitzhak Ravid
(Please look up the following:

Professor Sergio della Pergola, Head of Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Please look up the following:

Dr Yuval Steinitz, Head of Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee (Likud), one of Likud MKs who opposed Sharon’s “disengagement” plan.
(Please look up the following:

Needless to say, no speaker who might express a contrary view.

Needless to say, no Arab speaker: after all, are the patients taking part in medical conferences? Read again the title of the conference: they are “the problem!” When a reporter of an Israeli TV news channel reported the event (which developed into a major scandal, as you will read below), interviewed on the spot my colleague Professor Arnon Sofer, the chief organizer of the conference, what would he do to a Bedouine who has ten children, he answered on record, facing the camera: “If it were up to me, I would have arrested him, for he is a criminal.” He did not refer to an ultra-religious Jew, who in many cases is bound to have a similar number of children, or sometimes more. After they are all Jewish, and thus, do not constitute “a problem.”

Since I try to set some limits to the degree of stomach convulsion my job description at the University of Haifa obliges me to contract, I did not volunteer to show up on campus on a day where my attendance is not required for performing my teaching duties. But several of my friends, colleagues and students, went there, to protest. The event is described below, in an Ha’aretz report, and a more detailed account provided by my colleague Dr Ilan Pappe of the despicable event, which represents the way my university interprets academic freedom. Yes, I said my university, not a few right wing extremists who happen to be employed or invited by the university. The guest of honour at the conference was the Rector of the University, Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, who thought it wise to confer a prestigious prize under the auspices of that conference. This, then, is not a marginal conference tolerated by the university in the name of academic freedom: the well advertised attendance of the highest academic figure of the university (no matter who occupies that capacity at this time) voids any future claim by the university (when their PR consultants will advise them to do so) that it had no part in organizing it.

But before you move to the reports, a few words about the boycott. Some of you would say all this justifies it even further. Two major pretexts advanced by the initiators and supporters of the move were that it may prove effective: perhaps change some minds in Israel, and definitely make noise to bring the Palestinian issue to the forefront. Now, almost a month since it was launched, as an experimental balloon (and before it may well be retracted next week), let’s account for its effectiveness according to those parameters: Indeed the boycott decision made a lot of noise in my university, as well as in Israel and the world. During this month, some atrocities were made by the Israeli security forces, a Palestinian teenager shot by the security forces died in a Palestinian ambulance rushing him to hospital when the ambulance was detained for 15 critical minutes by an IDF watch barrier; Injuring demonstrators against the construction of the evil wall; Allegations of anti-semitism were flaunted to each direction.; Pappe was attacked by the Mini-stress of Education at her speech at the ceremony awarding the Israel prize to scientists, academics and artists; The Israeli cabinet voted 13-7 to confer university status on Judea and Samaria College in the West Bank settlement Ariel (a political move, since the Ariel College is rated one of the lowest ranking in quality among the Israeli colleges, and no academic criterion justifies such a promotion).

My university’s administration had a lively activity during these weeks: do you think that following the boycott they have reconsidered the refusal to put signs in Arabic, in addition to Hebrew and English, on campus? to employ some Arab students in the library or elsewhere at the university? Reconsider the closure of the University theatre closed for mounting plays in Arabic? Reconsider forbidding a Christmas tree installed in Christmas a the university’s main building, the same place were a Jewish Menora was put during Hannuka? Did they raise a voice of protest against the incessant undermining by the Israeli security forces of Palestinian higher education in the Occupied Territories? No, none of these. Instead, they were busy defaming Ilan Pappe; spread officially (via the university’s official spokesperson, a misleading account of the disqualifying, by an alleged anonymous committee, of Teddy Katz’s formerly cum-laude-approved MA theasis; hired a British lawyer to send a letter to the AUT threatening them that if the boycott was not revoked, the university will file a libel suit at a British court; and passing in the Senate a regulation empowering the University use the Appointments and Promotions committee (headed by the Rector) to appoint adjunct lecturers, suggested by members of faculty and endorsed by the Deans, as a declarative statement of support (a colleague of mine suggested parodically Sue Blackwell, the initiator of the boycott, as such an adjunct, and Sue, with a good sense of humour, wrote she would accept the offer once the boycott was revoked, but expressed her doubts whether the Israeli authorities will let her into Israel, or deny her entry, as it did to a group of women having come last week from the UK to support the Palestinians on the West Bank).

In short, the boycott indeed made noise, but not about the Palestinian issue, but... about the boycott. I would advise our International colleagues to learn this lesson and reconsider their decision: if you wish to put pressure on Israel, do it where it hurts, not where it serves just to enhance the feeling of persecution by most Israelis - including those who oppose the occupation. Protest against the persons directly asking for reproach. Or, better still, do something positive about helping and supporting the Palestinians in every way possible.

For better days,

A. Oz
Professor Avraham Oz
Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of Haifa
2105 Eshkol Tower, Mount Carmel, 31905 Haifa, Israel
Office Tel +972-4-8240672 Office Fax +972-4-8249713
Home Tel +972-3-5609627 Home Fax +972-1533-5609627
Mobile +972-50-7220783 Email: avitaloz@research.haifa.ac.il

1. Ha’aretz, 17 May 2005:

Haifa University students protest against ‘racist’ conference on demography

By David Ratner, Haaretz Correspondent

Last Update: 17/05/2005 16:31

Several dozen Jewish and Arab students protested Tuesday morning at Haifa University against an academic conference titled “The Demographic Problem and Israel’s Demographic Policies” that they described as racist.

The students, prevented by campus security personnel from entering the auditorium where the conference was being held, sat down outside and refused to be evacuated.

Conference participants are slated to discuss the forecasts that Arabs will constitute the majority of Israel’s population with several decades.

The student protestors maintain the conference is racist and anti-Arab. They attempted to distributed to conference participants certificates reading “licensed racist” and “the bearer of this certificate completed with honors an advanced course in racism at Haifa University.”

Conference participants include demographic experts Professor Sergio della Pergola of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa University.

2. From Ilan Pappe, this evening:

This morning a group of Palestinian and Jewish students demonstrated outside the hall of the conference in the university of Haifa titled ‘The demographic problem and the Demographic policy of Israel’ - the euphemism used for talking about the Arab Demographic threat and the need to encounter it; by transfer even, if need be. The posters against the conference were brutally torn and taken away by the security guards of the university, bruising and beating some of the students on the way. The students were unable to go into the hall as a wall - what else - of tables and chairs blocked their way into the seats. Cameras were working overtime, taking photos of the Arab students, so that they could be charged with violating public order and brought in front of a disciplinary committee.

My student, L. H., a fragile young Palestine woman, succeeded in getting in: “they thought I was Jewish”, she told me later. She managed to stay calm when one demographer elaborated on the dangers of losing a Jewish majority, and even when Professor Arnon Sofer, claimed that it was me who sent the students to demonstrate as part of my alliance with ‘contemptible’ Europe and ‘despicable’ Britain. She even sat through when he explained that he will not allow Tel-Aviv to become Cairo. The kind of rhetoric one hears in the meetings of the national fronts meetings across Europe and in the neo-Nazi rallies in Berlin. Here it was in an academic conference sponsored and honoured by the Rector.

But she had enough when Yoav Gleber claimed that any numbers of Palestinians living before 1948 were fabricated for political reasons, and in any case if he had to choose between a Jewish State and a Democracy, he prefers the former. She stood up and condemned him and was silenced by the crowd as being stupid and later ushered out of the meeting by the security people.

L. H. is afraid to go into classes today if this is the university she studies in. But she will overcome her fear and continue to demand what is hers by right and virtue. The important question what does it tell us of the University of Haifa. The speakers in the conference came from among its top professors, but also the demonstrators came from that university. The former threw out the latter: oppressed and silenced them. Another question is how best can we help the Palestinian and Jewish students who demonstrated bravely and will be probably charged? I have answered these questions in the past and suggested that only outside pressure can help, but far more important is the question of what will happen if nothing is done? Can you, like me, conjecture the titles of next year’s conferences: ‘The Meaning and Objective of Transfer’; ‘Encouraging Abortion Among Palestinian Women’ etc. Sometimes you feel that the authorities of this university deserve every bit of the trouble that came its way recently.


So far Ilan Pappe. And now, a comic relief: In accordance with the somewhat hysterical behaviour of my university’s administration, an official - this time Dean of Students Professor Ron Robin - was sent to express the official view of the administration. After bashing Ilan Pappe as a liar, a common practice of my university’s official publications since the AUT boycott was announced, Ron wrote on the university email circuit:

There was no confrontation of any kind, and the sheer nonsense reported by Ilan does not deserve a response. But for the benefit of those interested in the facts: no violence of any kind, no ripping of posters, and as for the bruising of participants, please... I expect a bit more imagination!! But please don’t believe me: Turn on your TV news this evening (all channels were represented at this demonstration). Or better still: why don’t you ask some of the members of Forum Smul who were present (David Blanc, Kobi Pertrozil, Micha Leshem and others). [Forum Smol is the tiny gathering of Left-wing faculty at the University of Haifa, founded by Ilan, myself, and a handful of others about six years ago - A. O. ].

This came about 15 minutes BEFORE the 8pm news came on our screens. Come the news, and lo and behold, as another member of faculty reported to the circuit:

“Ron, Just now on channel 10 they showed ripping of posters by security guards and plenty of shoving. Perhaps your message was premature.”

And a bit later, two of the left-wing “witnesses” referred to by the Dean of Students to corroborate his defamation of Ilan’s account, responded indeed:

Dear Ron,

Sorry to disagree, you should have checked with the security people first.

In the first few minutes of the demonstration, before you arrived (as you recall you were not there from the start), there was indeed some heavy pushing and shoving by the security people (one in particular stands in mind). Some posters were indeed torn, and at least one student was slightly bruised, as far as I could see. He was very shaken by the whole thing and had to be calmed down. It is true that very soon after that, someone was wise enough to instruct Security to calm down and there was no violence, as far as I could see, by the time you arrived and from then on. I am sure that the security will confirm that.


I came after teaching at 11h. A line of security guards were stopping the students from getting in. I asked Micha Rav (our Head of Security) why they were not allowing the students in. He told me they had made trouble, and if he let them in they would make trouble inside. I asked how he knew which had made trouble and which had not - he told me they had all of them on tape. So I suggested, and he concurred, that any students who had not made trouble would be allowed in - and I told that to the students. In the meantime the guards had made a barrier of tables, as Ilan reported. Then I went and had a pee. Then I went into the hall, and listened to Prof. Yoav Gelber. Yoav was telling us that the numbers of refugees were overestimates by UNRWA and Arabs, but there were some fair Israeli estimates. For example only 80 were killed in Tantura, and only 40% of the Ezel figure were killed in Dir Yassin. From the number of those that “ran away” (that was the term he repeatedly used. He did not use the term “expelled” even once), we need to deduct 15, 000 that were killed, 80, 000 who weren’t even Palestinians, many who weren’t refugees, eg in Tulkarm they were receiving UNRWA aid although they had run away, but their land, and therefore income, had been taken away. Yoav was quite a Hevreman - he used his military experience to make the point that as Company Commander he too inflated figures to obtain more food rations for his company, and deflated the figures to reduce their guard rota. The audience thought this was an amusing analogy, and laughed.

Toward the end of his presentation, when I could take no more, we had gotten down from 700, 000 plus who “ran away” to ~520, 000 who “ran away”. I found this quite difficult to hear, and left before having to listen to Prof. Sofer. I am sorry I left before Ilan’s student LH spoke out, I would at least have been able to give her some support that might also have restored some of my self respect. The audience were rapt, and clapped at the end of the talks. I can report to you that it was not a pleasant experience. The videos will be on the Herzl Center website in a few weeks time.


PS in no way am I writing this to corroborate what Ilan wrote. It is none of my business what he wrote, and I do not understand why if Ilan writes something, someone else needs to corroborate it. I find that quite offensive.