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Israel’s universities launch new anti-BDS initiative with Hillel

Israel’s universities have launched a new initiative designed to counter growing calls for an academic boycott of the country’s higher education institutions.

The Committee of University Heads in Israel, a body representing seven research universities on matters such as budgeting and wages, announced last week the new partnership with Hillel International, a Jewish student organization present on more than 550 campuses worldwide.

The collaboration will see the Committee coordinating activities with Hillel to “combat calls for an academic boycott”, a call that is part of the wider Palestinian campaign for Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) until Israel ends its violations of basic rights and international law.

Specifically, Hillel will “notify the Committee of any attempt to organize boycotts and will help with on-the-ground activities towards the public struggle against academic boycotts”, while also lobbying on campuses against the boycott.

Back in July, the Committee established its own, internal group to fight academic BDS, described at the time by Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chair of the Committee of University Heads, as an “increasingly growing phenomenon”.

Speaking last week, Ben-Sasson said that “the fight against boycotts” must be conducted by “universities from Israel” along with “organizations operating abroad.” Ben-Sasson’s hope is that the cooperation with Hillel will mean boycott proponents are reduced to a “condemned” minority.

This is not the first time that Israel’s universities have thrown themselves into fighting Israel’s propaganda war and efforts at undermining Palestine solidarity activism.

Hebrew University itself has “promoted and hosted” an “Israeli-government endorsed [hasbara] fellowship”, while Bar-Ilan University, for example, has offered a free course to equip students to “promote Israel’s image abroad.”

Ben-Gurion University has co-sponsored a propaganda initiative by hasbara organisation StandWithUs, targeting student journalists, and the University of Haifa, meanwhile, offers an academic course to combat the online “delegitimization of Israel.”

In November 2012, Tel Aviv University even hosted a hasbara “situation room” for students, as the Israeli military bombed the Gaza Strip.

The eagerness of Israel’s universities to assist in government and private propaganda initiatives should come as no surprise, given these institutions’ involvement with the state’s policies of occupation, war crimes, and apartheid.

Ironically, however, the participation of Israel’s academic institutions in politicised hasbara projects only serves to cement the argument for boycott, an argument based on a Palestinian call for solidarity, and the reality of practical, institutional complicity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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