Geneva - In an urgent letter to the European Parliament on Friday, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor demanded that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen withdraw her acceptance of an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel.
The Geneva-based human rights organization explained that von der Leyen’s acceptance of the BGU doctorate signals condoning the role Israeli academic institutions play in the ever-entrenched occupation of Palestine, as evidenced by BGU’s deep and multifaceted relations with the Israeli military and its discriminatory practices against pro-Palestinian activists.
The letter, addressed to Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Chair Marie Arena, details at length BGU’s complicity in enhancing the Israeli army’s capabilities and increasing its recruits—its condoning of the army’s function as an instrument of systematic oppression, and its violations against Palestinians.
The list of examples provided by Euro-Med Monitor includes the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) being one of BGU’s main donors; BGU being the first Israeli university to create a nearby “Advanced Technologies Park” for the benefit of the IDF; its constructing a new “IDF Technology Campus”; and its incentivising Israelis to join the military by providing them with technology-related education to enhance their quality of service in Israeli intelligence units.
The letter argues that “BGU offers space, facilities, education, and research collaboration opportunities to IDF units implicated in violations against Palestinians”, including the signal intelligence Unit 8200, which maintains covert listening units in the Palestinian territories that gather people’s private information with the intent to abuse Palestinians.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented further examples of how BGU provides financial aid and scholarships to active duty and reserve soldiers, in order to encourage Israelis to join the army. During the 2008 war on Gaza—also known as Operation Cast Lead—in which Israel killed about 926 Palestinian civilians, BGU offered scholarships and extra tuition to students serving in active combat units. The university similarly offered a special grant for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty, in addition to other benefits.
“Such exclusive benefits for Israelis serving the army not only provide incentive for enlisting in the IDF, including units in the occupied territories, but also discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel who do not serve in the IDF”, the letter reads.
Moreover, Euro-Med Monitor argues that “in collaborating with Israel’s army and providing support to its soldiers, BGU can be accused of aligning its policies and practices with the Israeli state’s restrictions on academic freedom and the right to protest and voice dissent.”
The letter provides multiple examples of the university or its personnel cracking down on pro-Palestinian speech, including reprimanding students for protesting the Israeli state’s actions, as well as prohibiting or restricting certain pro-Palestinian activities. The letter also points out BGU’s collaborating with the Weitzmann Institute, Israel’s Public Affairs Department, and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to counteract pro-Palestinian activities abroad, such as Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in the UK and elsewhere.
“It is wholly unjustifiable to contribute to whitewashing the role Israeli academic institutions play in supporting the occupation of Palestinians and collaborating with the Israeli army despite its track record of egregious human rights violations”, said Euro-Med Monitor Chairman Ramy Abdu. “The EU Commission President’s acceptance of Ben-Gurion University’s honorary doctorate gives a stamp of approval to BGU’s complicity and support for the IDF”.
Euro-Med Monitor also demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to von der Leyen’s acceptance of the doctorate and whether the EU Commission is aware of the moral and political controversies surrounding the university.