[The following statement was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on 7 November 2013.]
When far-right Christian Zionists as infamous as John C. Hagee and Rick Perry and Israeli leaders accused of war crimes like Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu propose a project, any project, it cannot be good for Palestinians or for humankind.
The recently revealed project for establishing an Israeli branch of Texas A&M, the sixth largest university in the US, under the name, Peace University, raises alarm bells among academics, students and human rights activists alike. The attempt to build this campus in Nazareth, in particular, the largest Palestinian city in the Israeli state, makes this project far more suspicious and may hint at the political agendas behind the idea.
Perry, a controversial politician and a fanatic Christian Zionist, is of the view that Texas and Israel share the experience of "civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions.”
Hagee, an unapologetic extremist who supports Israel’s illegal colonies in the occupied territory, among other Israeli crimes and violations of international law, also believes that Hitler was sent by God to force the Jews to move to Palestine. Hagee, who once stated that non-Christians, those who “don’t confess [their] sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ” are “going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket,” is the one who proposed the idea of this “peace” university to Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Peres, who jumped on it, with Peres shrewdly suggesting to build it in Nazareth.
But the initial idea came from the chancellor of Texas A&M, John Sharp, a fervent supporter of Zionism and Israel who wanted “a presence in Israel” as further proof of his “kinship” with its regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.
This university would indeed provide ample evidence of this “kinship” as Israel’s regime has a lot to gain from it on different levels.
(1) Propaganda: While some may argue that opening a branch of a US university in Nazareth may provide Palestinian citizens of Israel with a concrete opportunity to escape the engrained and institutionalized racism of Israel’s academic institutions, the fact is this project is explicitly proposed to serve Israel’s agenda, not least of which in the propaganda domain where it is suffering considerably, as international public opinion polls reveal, despite its massive PR investment.
The apartheid dimension of the Israeli regime of oppression against Palestinians, and especially the fact that Israel maintains over fifty racist laws that discriminate against its “non-Jewish” citizens, the indigenous Palestinians, is increasingly being debated among academics and activists alike, raising the specter of comparisons to South African apartheid. Quite typically, Israel’s response to its plummeting reputation around the world is to try new media or public relations tricks to divert attention and cover up the state’s foundational apartheid. Recruiting help from far-right Christian Zionists from the US to use education as another smokescreen for apartheid must be understood in this context.
Israeli apartheid is arguably most “embarrassing” in the education sector. A 2001 study by Human Rights Watch of racial discrimination in Israel’s educational system concludes:
“The hurdles Palestinian Arab students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of sieves with sequentially finer holes. At each stage, the education system filters out a higher proportion of Palestinian Arab students than Jewish students."
(2) Undermining Independent Palestinian Education: Palestinian academics in Israel have worked for many years to establish the first Arab university in the country. But, as the Nazareth-based British journalist Jonathan Cook writes, “Successive [Israeli] governments have turned a deaf ear, fearful that an Arab university teaching in Arabic might make the local `minorities’ uppity.” An academic institute established by Palestinian academics a few years ago in Nazareth is effectively boycotted by the Israeli government, which refuses to provide it with any funding. If the Israeli establishment is so concerned about Palestinian education in Israel, as it now claims as justification for this Texas A&M branch, why has it so stubbornly resisted the idea of licensing a Palestinian university in Israel?
Exposing anachronistic racism, the chairman of the Israeli Council of Higher Education openly considers Palestinians in Israel as prone to violence and counsels improved educational opportunities for them to serve Israel’s overall agenda. He writes: “Anyone who cares about the State of Israel and wants a harmonious [read: submissive] society should care about minorities that represent 20 percent of the population. If [Palestinian citizens of Israel] don’t find their place in society with well-paid jobs, then there is expected to be greater friction.”
Yet another agenda motive is exposed in statements made by the deputy director of the Council. She states: "There’s a phenomenon where Arab students go abroad to study in Jordan and other countries in the region. We want to reduce that trend.”
(3) Further Colonization of Nazareth: By building Nazareth-Elit, conceived as a Jewish-only colony overlooking (i.e., suffocating) Nazareth, Israel was continuing with its racial policy that is as old as the state and implementing a foundational tenet of Zionism: maximum land, minimum Arabs. Palestinian citizens of Israel, and those in Nazareth are no exception, have been effectively caged in ever shrinking, disparate spaces surrounded by Jewish-only colonies intentionally built to prevent their contiguity and potential for demanding autonomy within the state. This Texas A&M satellite will most likely become yet another Israeli settlement, grabbing the precious little open space left in the city of Nazareth, further hindering development and exacerbating the already serious housing crisis.
Needless to say, Israeli leaders, the Council of Higher Education, the Texas A&M management and the Christian Zionist zealots behind this project have failed to consult with Palestinian educators, planners or community leaders to gauge their views on whether such a project would actually serve their true interests. Again, an Israeli-American project is being imposed from above on Palestinians in a patronizing and colonial attitude that is in line with Israel’s decades-old racist treatment of its Palestinian citizens. In light of the above, the A&M in the university’s name may stand for Apartheid & More in Nazareth.